Experienced Amherst Team Ready for Big Season

Contact: Justin Long

Amherst placed eighth at last year's NCAA Championships.

The Amherst women’s cross country team is coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history, and the Lord Jeffs could see another big jump in 2011. Last year Amherst earned an at-large bid to Nationals after placing third at both the NESCAC and NCAA Regional championship events, marking the eighth consecutive year the Jeffs qualified for the national race. Despite featuring a young team, Amherst finished the NCAA Championship in eighth place for the best showing since claiming the title in 2007.

Amherst returns several runners from last year’s championship team, but this will be a transitional season with interim head coach John Adamson beginning his first fall with the program. The Lord Jeffs begin the season as the fourth best team in the ultracompetitive New England region, according to the most recent USTFCCCA polls. “I expect we will improve upon last year’s eighth-place showing at Nationals,” Adamson says. “The talent level is high, and we have fantastic leaders across the board. They have enthusiastically embraced this season and its potential, and they understand that they control their destiny.”

Amherst’s top runner should once again be Ali Simeone ’13, who put in the team’s fastest time at the 2009 NCAA Championships and led the charge in all seven races she took part in during the 2010 season. One of the top runners in all of Division III, Simeone placed second overall at last year’s Williams Invitational before finishing fifth at the NESCAC Championship, third at the NCAA Regionals and 12th at Nationals for an All-America honor. Her time of 21:28.7 at last year’s NCAA Championships was nearly a two-minute improvement from her 2009 performance (23:24.2).

Melissa Sullivan '12 will be one of Amherst's top runners in 2011.

Nearly joining Simeone in the All-America ranks in 2010 was Melissa Sullivan ’12, who will serve as one of this year’s captains. Sullivan finished behind Simeone in six races last year, notably placing 11th overall at the NCAA Regional Championship and 38th at Nationals. Adamson notes that the team’s top two performers have very different running styles. “Ali excels in the 5k and 10k during track and field seasons—she’s a more paced and more deliberate runner who will excel on any course. Melissa has more foot speed and will potentially be even better later in the season as the courses become flatter and faster.”

While Simeone and Sullivan will be expected to once again lead the Amherst pack, a number of exceptional runners will be competing for the remaining scoring spots. In the mix will be Eliza Schalch ’12, who grabbed one of the team’s top-4 times in four races last year, finishing behind Sullivan at the Little Three and NESCAC championships before taking the fourth spot at Nationals. “Eliza had her best cross country season last year,” Adamson says. “She has the talent to be a consistent scorer at her highest level, and we expect her to maximize her potential.”

Looking to build on exceptional first years are Victoria Sosnowski ’14 and Angie Epifano ’14. Sosnowski had one of Amherst’s top-4 times in six races a year ago, notably putting in the team’s third best performance at the NCAA regional and national championships. Her showing at the regional event was particularly impressive, as she placed 20th overall with a time of 22:59. Epifano also had a strong championship season, putting in the team’s sixth fastest time at NESCACs before landing fifth at Regionals and seventh at Nationals.  

Also competing for a spot in the top-5 will be the junior trio of Sarah Daly ’13, Lauren Almeida ’13 and Keri Lambert ’13. Daly rounded out the team’s top-5 at last year’s NESCAC Championships, while Lambert and Almeida came in at seventh and eighth, respectively. Each of these runners has the potential to become a major factor in 2011, but Lambert has made huge strides with the program and may have the slight edge after a very successful track and field season.

Sarah Daly '13 grabbed Amherst's fifth
scoring spot at last year's NESCAC Championships.

The wild card of this year’s team is co-captain Shannon McKenna ’12, who has battled injuries for three years and thus far hasn’t had a consistent training period. Although McKenna hasn’t factored into the scoring, Adamson is excited about her potential. “Shannon is a very good runner,” he says. “If she is healthy enough to race to her talent level, she certainly has the ability to be in the mix. But regardless of her health, she will be a huge positive influence on our team.”

Rounding out the deep senior and junior classes are Laura Zaccagnino ’12, Marlis Gnirke '12, Ellen Richmond '12, Rebecca Alizzi ’13, Abby Hopper ’13, Kristen Moulton ’13, Jamila Odeh ’13 and Elodie Reed ’13. Zaccagnino has shown potential and could be in store for a breakout senior year, while Hopper and Reed were among Amherst’s top-5 performers in two races in 2010. Hopper notably was the Lord Jeffs’ third scorer at the New England Championships after landing fourth at the Williams Invitational, with Reed rounding out the team’s top-5 on both occasions. “Several of our upperclassmen have the potential to be contributors this season,” Adamson says. “We’ll be relying on our upperclassmen to step into leadership roles that perhaps they aren’t used to. We need them to provide a mentoring role to our younger runners.”

Returning for a second season are sophomores Bridget Bennett ’14, Amy Dao ’14, Jasia Kaulbach ’14, Brooke Kirkham ’14 and Lisa Walker ’14, with Elizabeth Briskin ’15, Kelli Ellingson ’15, Jessica Kaliski ’15, Alissa Rothman ’15 and Olivia Tarantino ’15 ready to begin their collegiate careers. “We have quite a few sophomores and first-years with the ability to score at high-level meets,” Adamson says. “Several of them are ready to go, but our team is very deep. Regardless of where they end up, I’m looking forward to our younger runners contributing to our training and development to make this team as good as it can be.”

The Lord Jeffs will begin the 2011 season at the UMass Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 17.