XC women take third; Beard, Neal head to nationals

Alex Jensen, Sports editor

Linfield’s women’s cross country team ranked third in the west region at the NCAA Regional Championship. Head Coach Mike Blackmore said it’s the highest NCAA regionals team finish in Linfield history.

“I was extremely pleased with our performance at regionals,” said Travis Olson, director of cross country and track.

The team flew down to Southern California over the weekend for the regional meet. Pomona-Pitzer hosted the event.

The women’s group competed against 20 different schools and 138 racers in the 6k to score 129 points. Linfield had three racers on the finish in the top 20.

Junior Courtney Beard led the Wildcat’s pack finishing seventh with a time of 22:05.1. It was the best individual finish for a Wildcat in regionals since 2009 when Marci Klimek finished fourth.

Teammate senior Kaelia Neal was right on Beard’s heels just two tenths of a second behind her finishing eighth. Senior Emma Knudson was barely behind her teammates finishing 11th with a time of 22:11.5.

“Going into the race I knew it would be a fight for the top 10 finishers but I have worked incredibly hard this season balancing nursing school and running,” Beard said.

“I knew that I was determined more than ever to qualify for nationals and place in the top seven at regionals.”

Beard brought in a First Team All-Region Honors because of her placement. And Neal and Knudson earned Second Team Honors. All three finishes were career bests for a regional championship competition.

Senior Jamie Rodden and Ana Ramirez beat out half of the racers finishing 49th and 54th. Rodden had a time of 23:57.8 and Ramirez had a time of 24:07.2.

Freshmen Kelsey Kuhns and Nicole Bissey finished next to each other in 87th and 89th place.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps won the regional meet with 58 points. Bryn McKillop, who was individual champion with a time of 21:07.6, led the team. Whitworth placed second with 109 points.

To advance to the national championship meet, the runners on the top-two teams at the regional meet advanced. The next seven individuals also punch a ticket.

Sixteen teams from the eight division III regions automatically qualify and 16 more teams are selected as an at-large bid. After being ranked among the top 35 in the national polls this season and placing third at the regional meet, the women’s team was hoping to earn an at-large bid.

“Unfortunately, the NCAA committee did not choose the team for an at-large bid. I’m certainty disappointed for them, as we have been nationally ranked almost all year,” Blackmore said.

Since they placed among the top seven competitors, excluding those from Claremont and Whitworth, both Neal and Beard were chosen to represent Linfield at the NCAA National Championships Nov. 18 in Elsah, Illinois. Coach Travis Olson said he’s confident that they will finish well.

Blackmore said that Knudson sadly missed individual contention by one place but that she ran a great race. He said this year happens to have a lot of top individuals who are not on a team attending the national meet.

The men’s team placed 16 out of 18 teams with 414 points among 124 competitors.

Lone senior on the men’s team Jeff Lee led the Wildcats pack in the 8k. He finished 31st with a time of 26:31.2 to earn all-region honors. The top 35 competitors receive all-region recognition.

Lee’s 31st place was a huge improvement from his 70th place finish a year ago.

“It was a great way for Jeff Lee to finish his XC career as an all-region performer,” Olson said.

Junior Calvin Ong placed 66th, sophomore Liam Pickhardt 98th, sophomore Asa Richerson 112nd, sophomore Grant Blodgette 133rd and freshman Josh Ramirez 124th.

Pomona-Pitzer’s men’s team won with 35 points. Leading the team was Andy Reischling, who was individual champion in a time of 25:04.1.

The team is going to take a short break before gearing up for track season.

It will be Neal’s second national meet. In 2015, as a sophomore, she placed 77th. This will be Beard’s first national championship appearance.

The NCAA National Championship women’s race begins at 10:15 a.m. Pacific time on Nov. 18.