Willamette Runner Wins National Title

Sarah Zerzan and her AwardsWEST CHESTER, Ohio -- Willamette University cross country runner Sarah Zerzan battled a wet and muddy course to win the women's individual title at the NCAA Division III Cross Country National Championships in West Chester, Ohio, Nov. 18. The junior from San Carlos, Calif., was the first of 279 runners to cross the finish line, becoming 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 challenging, but everyone else was running in the same mud. You can't let it defeat you."

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

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

"It was like running in a swamp," Zerzan said. "The water often 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."

Zerzan was one of just five runners to complete the women's race in less than 23 minutes. Although she won by 20 seconds, the next three runners finished just two seconds apart. Willamette claimed 20th place in the women's team standings. Willamette's second runner to reach the finish line was Maddie Coffman, a sophomore from Idaho, who clocked in at 24:59 for 106th place.

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 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 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."

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 (NWC) title for the fifth consecutive year and claimed its fourth straight NCAA West Regional title. Zerzan completed a triple championship this fall, winning the NCAA, West Regional and NWC titles.

The WU men's team won its fifth consecutive West Regional crown and won the NWC title for the sixth consecutive year. Ian Batch, a junior from Boise, Idaho, was the NWC's individual champion and placed eighth at the West Regional.