By Alex Kantor
Heather Wilson '08
Validation is a word used all too often in sports—when a team wins a game over a rival it lost to the previous year, when a benchwarmer finally earns playing time and does well. But every once in a while, a program faces an earth-shaking, cringe-inducing setback—say, losing a national championship by a single point—and then rebounds above all expectations. That is validation.
The 2007 women’s cross country team did just that in November. After placing second, by a single point, to eventual champion Middlebury College at the 2006 NCAA National Championship, women’s cross country began the fall season as the nation’s top-ranked team—and with a giant target on its back.
The squad went wire-to-wire as the top dog in Division III, winning seven meets and twice placing second. In dominant fashion, the team went on to win the program’s first-ever NCAA Regional Championship. Both women’s and men’s cross country also captured their first New England district titles.
Going into the NCAA National Championship, held at St. Olaf College in Minnesota on Nov. 17, 2007, the Amherst women were favored to win. But within the first 200 meters, Kim Partee ’08 was tripped up in a large mass of runners. She could have been knocked from contention. Partee regained composure, however, emerging from the pack and into the top tier. At the end of the race, the Amherst women believed they’d come in third or fourth: even their top finisher, Heather Wilson ’08, had not cracked the top 10. Within minutes, news broke that Amherst’s strong top-to-bottom lineup had stayed tough. The women had run away with the championship. It was the program’s first-ever win at the NCAAs.
Team members at the NCAAs.
Head coach Ned Nedeau, who is in his 12th season at Amherst, tailored the training this season to the specifics of the St. Olaf course. “The team prepared mentally and physically for this one goal,” he says. “We battled through the highs and lows, the ups and downs of the entire year to build toward a title.”
The first key to the team's success was senior leadership; the second was depth. Amherst was led by four seniors in the top seven of the lineup: Katie Moravec '08, Meg Ray '08, and co-captains Wilson and Partee. The Jeffs' top three finished below the top tier of several other programs; it was the rest of the lineup that powered the Jeffs to the crown. As the seventh runner for the Jeffs, Ray finished the year with All NESCAC, All Region and All New England honors.
Athletes and teams talk all the time about wanting to be the best, but it is a rare treat to see a team achieve its goal on the biggest stage. After the disappointment of last year, Amherst women’s cross country made the national championship its only goal, and sprinted to meet it head on.
Photos by Parker Morse '96