DIII Women’s Nationals Recap

Women’s results

MASON, Ohio – Maybe Bobby Van Allen isn’t the Rodney Dangerfield of Division III distance running, but when considering his accomplishments, consider the following two stats:

1. Johns Hopkins had more women (ten!) break 17:40 in the 5k last year than any other team in the entire NCAA except for Georgetown.

Ok, that’s a mildly arbitrary stat—plenty of schools had more women break 16:10, for instance.  But here’s the other stat:

2. With his third straight title, Van Allen doubles the size of the club of people who have coached three straight Division III women’s teams to national titles. The only person to have done that before was legendary coach Jack Daniels.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the threepeat is that eleven different runners have been on the title teams. I talked to two of them on Friday before the race.  Somewhat hilariously, Frances Loeb, who missed nearly the entire season, was the picture of confidence, while Sophia Meehan, who has been one of the best runners in the country for months, was more nervous than—well, a distance runner in a social situation.

 

Both would end up with the same piece of paper and heavy trophy. The results are almost a carbon copy of their win last year (85 points then, 87 points today), though Loeb was the only repeat All-American.  After taking turns running nationals (older sister Sophia ran in 2012, the younger Tess raced last year), both soeurs Meehan were All-American in the same race.

After the race, their coach was, if not jubilant, at least exultant.

Warning: extremely mild Centennial Conference trash talk ensues.

 

Van Allen and the Jays go for more history next year: five of their top seven are back, assuming Loeb and Ashley Murphy are out of eligibility.  Only the 1992-95 Daniels-led Cortland teams have won four straight. 

The Dragons did win six out of seven with titles in ’89 and ’90; Middlebury won six titles in 11 years from 2000 to 2010.  The current Hopkins run is unequivocally the third best era of a particular program in DIII history.  It’s been a meteoric rise for the Jays: their three titles have come in just seven appearances. The former number is the fifth most in DIII history, while the latter ranks just 33rd.

While the team race wasn’t quite the blowout of the last two years, it still was a little less scintillating than the individual race—The Greatest Show on Mud. I wrote beforehand that if Cheadle and Regan finished as close as they did last year (0.9 seconds), then it would be an all-timer.  Regan beat her older counterpart by 6.8 seconds, but it still was an instant classic. Due to the men’s race trashing the vulnerable course, the times weren’t quite in line with the titanic clash, but if you saw it, you know how good it was.

By my watch, Regan’s lead was roughly ten seconds well past halfway.  With women’s races lasting a mere twenty minutes, the murmurs started in the crowd: Is Regan insane? Or is Cheadle running conservatively for team points?

Neither.

Somewhere in the third mile, Cheadle walked down Regan, and the battle was on.  Typically, when a leader with a huge gap gets caught, it’s over. So much physical and mental energy gets poured into building that gap that when it all proves to be for naught, it’s too much for the would-be-Pre to handle.  Regan showed a Lalang-esque canniness, though.

After Cheadle caught up, the rest of the race was a wonderfully bizarre clash of styles.  The tall, impassive Cheadle and the short, clearly laboring Regan were running stride-for-stride, but with a solid three or four meters separating their shoulders. At times, yes, there was a little streak of mud that was between the two, but that doesn’t wholly explain the way they ran.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

Both had different rationalizations for why it happened.

Back to those Lalang-like smarts: somehow, the junior from Stevens Institute managed to not quite go to the well in the first 4k, and when she got caught, she had the good sense to not make a move right away.  For a few minutes, the race was utterly up in the air.

With about 500 meters to go, Regan surged on a tiny hill.  And that was it.  The two were half a minute clear of the field, so Cheadle’s second place finish was secure.   Regan’s 6.9 second margin of victory, while ample, is the smallest since Chiara del Piccolo beat Christy Cazzola by 5.6 seconds in 2011, and the second closest of the last twenty years.  The post-Cazzola individual scene is shaping up to be fun.

Other notes:

-This was a brutally tough women’s field.  As Chicago coach Chris Hall pointed out to me after the race, his 5th runner this year was way ahead of last year’s. Last year’s Maroons finished 4th, and this year’s finished 12th.

-The top three teams—Hopkins, MIT, and St. Lawrence—all matched their rankings. 16th place Tufts and 17th place UW-Eau Claire tied for best performance relative to expectations, both beating their rank by ten places.

Christopher Newport’s 999 points in 32nd place are the most in DIII history.  The 2006 Trinity (Tex.) team can toast to them. (To be fair, most previous nationals featured 21 or 24 teams, not the current 32)

-All of our video interviews can be found here.