1981 NCAA Div. III champions
PELLA—For the first time since winning the first NCAA Division III championship in 1981, the Central College women’s cross country team is heading to the national meet.
The Dutch received word Sunday afternoon that they’ll be part of the 32-team field that will compete next Saturday at Highland Hills, Ohio. Central was chosen on the strength of a surprising fourth-place finish at the 26-team NCAA Central Region meet Saturday at Oakland Acres.
The 6,000-meter race will be staged at the Highland Hills Golf Course in suburban Cleveland, Ohio at 11 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time). Baldwin-Wallace College (Ohio) is the host school.
Saturday’s regional meet featured six nationally ranked teams. Central was rated No. 8 in the region but, after finishing third in the Iowa Conference, turned in its best performance of the year. Five of Central’s seven runners posted career-best times.
“Looking back, when we looked at the team at the start of the year, I thought we had an outside chance of making it,” first-year coach Joe Dunham said. “Going to the national meet was always a goal for this team, but we knew everything had to work out perfect.
“We had some fortunate things happen that allowed it to work out. But the credit goes to our women for running so strong the second half of the race. Even two-thirds of the way through, it didn’t look like we were going to make it, but these runners reached down and found something extra. They all passed a lot of runners. Even in the last 200 meters, each of them passed a couple of runners.”
Still, only the top two teams in each regional meet receive an automatic national berth. The Dutch were in a 24-team pool for 16 at-large spots. Given the strength of the Central Region, Dunham felt good about his squad’s chances of selection but was nonetheless glad to receive official word Sunday.
“It’s a little bit of a relief,” he said.
Also making the field from the Central Region are No. 14-ranked Nebraska Wesleyan, No. 16 Carleton (Minn.), No. 21 Wartburg and St. Olaf (Minn.). No. 26 St. Thomas (Minn.), which was part of a three-way tie with Central and St. Olaf at the regional meet, was not selected. The Tommies were third in the teams’ three-way tiebreaker. No. 24-rated Bethel (Minn.) also failed to qualify.
While it’s Central’s first national team appearance in 28 years, it’s the third national meet for Dutch senior Angie Berry (Norwalk), who qualified as an individual in 2006, placing 37th, and 2007, finishing 63rd.
Amber Mayer (senior, Essex, Shenandoah HS) was Central’s leader Saturday for the first time this season, finishing 13th in a career-best 22:29.9. Berry was 21st (22:47.2), while Hannah Anderson (senior, Goodell, Garner-Hayfield HS) was 29th (23:01.6), Amy Ledvina (senior, Toledo, South Tama HS) was 36th (23:12), Mel McDermott (freshman, Britt, West Hancock HS) was 73rd (24:17.9), Rachelle Tipton (senior, Newton) was 88th (24:17.9) and Melanie Louis (sophomore, Davenport, Central HS) was 91st (24:22.8). Mayer, Berry and Anderson received all-region honors.
Dunham said he’s unfamiliar with the course but knows what his runners should expect at the national meet.
“You have to get out faster and be ready to respond when the others make a move,” he said. “Anything can happen. You have to rely on all seven runners. I’ve seen some great teams come in and have one or two runners not perform and it cost them. We just have to make sure we take care of ourselves. If we run the way we’re supposed to, we may surprise some teams.”
Runners finishing in the top 35 Saturday attain all-America status.
“That’s a goal,” Dunham said. “We want to get as many all-Americans as we can. If we can get even one, that would be great.”
The NCAA berth is the realization of a goal long held by Central’s five seniors making the trip.
“We’re going into this wanting to enjoy the experience but also be very focused so that we represent Central as best we can,” Dunham said. “We want to get out there and get after it. We’re excited to be at the national meet but we want to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Reaching the national meet is a huge boost to the Dutch program as Dunham, who piloted Central’s men’s track and field squad to an Iowa Conference championship last spring, completes his first season as cross country coach.
“This shows the program is moving in the right direction,” he said. “This is something we can build off of.”