Girls XC Ends Season With 4th Place in Regionals

On a challenging course and against national-caliber teams, the 2007 Girls Varsity Cross Country team made a name for Phillips Academy in the high school running scene this past weekend. Captain Jen Downing ’08 finished third among over 90 runners, surprising the crowd as a true underdog and leading the team to a fourth place finish with 106 points. The Nike Team Northeast Regional Championship meet hosted 13 teams on Saturday the 24th in Wappingers Falls, NY. It served as an exhibition of the best teams of New England, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In order to race, each team’s times and season record were reviewed for qualification. The top two teams would qualify for the Nike Team Nationals in Oregon while third and fourth would be eligible for an at-large wildcard spot. This was the first year that the teams for Nationals were chosen based on performance in regional races rather than on rankings from the season, giving Andover a chance to participate. As members of the New England Prep School Track Association, Andover is not ranked like the public school teams it raced against. It was the first time the team had competed at a race of this kind. Its magnitude brought many coaches and fans to the online blog discussions, and they tried to predict how the race would play out for weeks before the competition. The hype mostly surrounded top contenders Hanover, Voorhees and Lincoln-Sudbury. Andover was the underdog. Though the Andover girls hoped to run with the pack of top and mid-range runners from the strongest teams, they did not anticipate such amazing individual performances as they saw from Downing and Stephanie Moroney ’09. Downing finished in third place with a time of 19:15, astounding opposing teams who may have hoped to place their own top runners behind Georgia Griffin (first place) and Melanie Thompson (second place), two of the best runners in the Northeast. Downing noted that her strategy was to “race invisibly, as Coach Lang suggested. My competition didn’t know who I was, and I stayed among the front pack until the last quarter, when I broke away. I knew if I could surprise them with a big enough gap, the girls would give up on me. “I didn’t even realize I was in third place until a fan yelled it to me before the final stretch.” Moroney took 12th in 19:35, missing the top ten by only four seconds. Behind her, Berol Dewdney ’09 and Abby Levene ’09 finished together in 27th and 28th with times of 20:10 and 20:12, respectively. Sarah Cohan ’08 followed the pair of Uppers in 36th, Aubrey Zimmerling ’09 in 39th, and Sara Ho ’08 in 53rd. Though not a part of the official top seven, Kie Watanabe ’08 also ran as the team’s alternate, finishing 61st. Andover edged out the Emmaus team from Pennsylvania, who was ranked fourth before race day. Said Dewdney, “It was really exciting to be in a race in which we knew we had really earned the chance to participate. I was grateful for the chance to compete against such talented runners.” Overall, the eight Andover girls who traveled to the NTN Northeast Regional Championship greatly appreciated having the opportunity to race such talented runners after an undefeated season against prep schools. The team was not disappointed not to have qualified for Nationals; it was simply glad to have raced among true equals. It was the first and only time throughout an amazing season that the girls competed against a large pool of experienced runners. Overall, the team could not have asked for a better way to finish off the season.