Zerzan Wins National Title at NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships

WEST CHESTER, OHIO -- Willamette University cross country runner Sarah Zerzan (Jr., San Carlos, CA/Notre Dame HS) battled a wet and muddy course to win the women’s individual title at the NCAA Division III Cross Country National Championships, held at Voice of America Park in West Chester, Ohio, on Saturday, Nov. 18. Zerzan was the first of 279 runners to cross the finish line, as she became Willamette’s first national champion in cross country. She completed the 6-kilometer course in 22:31 to win by 20 seconds over the second place finisher, Caitlin Bradley of Dickinson College.

“I’m excited,” Zerzan said. “It was difficult and very challenging, but everyone else was running in the same mud. You can’t let it defeat you.”

Zerzan got out to a solid start and was behind two runners at the mile mark. With about two miles to go, she move in front and began to increase her lead. She eventually won by nearly 100 meters.

“She just kept pulling away,” Willamette Head Coach Matt McGuirk said. “She ran a great race. I think she would have been there at the front even if it was dry. The course was extremely difficult.”

According to Zerzan and McGuirk nearly the entire course was muddy and several areas included sizable puddles of water. The sky was clear on Saturday, but the course received about five inches of rain in the middle of the week. The water and mud challenged all of the runners, with even some of the top competitors struggling to fight the conditions.

“I was running well and feeling pretty good, so I just went out in front,” she said. “It was like running in a swamp. The water frequently went over our ankles. I’ve never run in consistent mud like that. I’m from California and we don’t get that much rain.”

Willamette claimed 20th place in the women’s team standings. The team title went to Middlebury College from Vermont with a score of 144 to slip past Amherst College (Mass.) by a single point. Calvin College (Mich.) took third place just five points behind Middlebury, with a score of 149.

The Willamette men’s cross country team took 27th place. Junior runner Ian Batch (Eagle, ID/Capital HS) was Willamette’s top finisher, as he placed 91st out of 279 runners with a time of 28:16 over the 8-kilometer course. Batch was 71st among runners who scored for their teams.

The men’s team title was won by Calvin College (Mich.) with a score of 37 points. Macharia Yuot of Widener University won the men’s individual championship with a time of 26:31 for a 10-second margin of victory over Tim Finnegan of Calvin.

Zerzan was one of just five runners to complete the course in under 23 minutes during the women’s race. Although she won by 20 seconds, the next three runners finished just two seconds apart. Bradley clocked in at 22:51 for second place, then Sarah Spencer of Grinnell College (Iowa) was timed at 22:52 for third place and Toni Wiszowaty of SUNY Plattsburgh ended the race at 22:53 to take fourth place. Beth Herndon of Washington University (Mo.) was fifth with a time of 22:56.

Willamette’s team score for the women’s squad was 476, as the Bearcats concluded the race just a single point out of 19th place and only 19 points out of 17th place. WU’s second runner to reach the finish line was Maddie Coffman (So., Boise, ID/Boise HS), who clocked in at 24:59 for 106th place overall and 80th among runners scoring for their respective teams. Elizabeth Hart (Sr., Spokane, WA/Lewis & Clark HS) placed 132nd overall and 99th among scorers with a time of 25:13.

The Bearcats’ completed their women’s team score with the results for Katrina Brett (Jr., Longview, WA/Mark Morris HS) and Ali Maki (So., Shoreview, MN/Mounds View HS), who concluded the race just two seconds apart. Brett timed out at 25:53 for 194th place (147th among scorers), while Maki earned a time of 25:55 for 197th place (149th among scorers). Other runners for Willamette were Jena Winger (So., Bonney Lake,WA/Sumner HS), with a time of 26:25 and Edith Polanco (So., Salem, OR/McKay HS), who finished the race in 27:14.

In the men’s team standings, Calvin’s score of 37 points included three runners in the top eight and five in the top 13. Calvin won by 55 points over New York University, which took second place with a score of 92. Third place went to SUNY Cortland with a score of 212, just one point in front of St. John’s (Minn.) at 213.

WU’s teams score in the men’s race was 654. Batch was followed by Travis Harris (Sr., Bellingham, WA/Sehome HS) in 136th place overall (104th among scorers) at 28:52. Lucas Nebert (Jr., Cincinnati, OH/Wyoming HS) finished 163rd (123rd among scorers) with a time of 29:09. Steven Millard (Jr., Port Orchard, WA/South Kitsap HS), who did not compete at the West Regional, was Willamette’s fourth finisher at the National Championships, as he placed 220th (170th among scorers) after clocking in at 29:52. Also contributing to the team score was Josh Clough (So., Auburn, WA/Auburn Riverside HS) with a time of 30:11. Clough placed 239th overall (186th among scorers).

Other runners for the Bearcats were A.J. Packard (Fr., Boise, ID/Capital HS) and Kyle Kotaich (Fr., Florence, OR/Suislaw HS). Packard crossed the finish line shortly after Clough, earning a time of 30:15. Kotaich was timed at 30:41.

The NCAA Division III National Championships completed an outstanding season for the Willamette cross country teams. In addition to placing 20th nationally, the women’s team won the Northwest Conference title for the fifth year in a row and claimed their fourth straight NCAA West Regional title. Zerzan completed a triple championship this fall, as she won the NCAA, West Regional and NWC titles. The WU men’s team won its fifth consecutive West Regional crown and also won the NWC title for the sixth year in a row. Batch was the NWC’s individual champion and placed eighth at the West Regional.

Zerzan received All-America honors for the second consecutive season. She placed 25th at the 2005 NCAA National Championships to earn her first All-America award. The top 35 runners at the National Championships are selected as All-America each season.

“I just have more confidence this year,” Zerzan said. “So I just think that I can run with these people ... and I do. It was amazing. I’m just so glad to be on this team.”

“We have a national champion among us tonight,” McGuirk said. “The entire team is happy about that. So many good things have happened this year. It’s been a very positive experience.”