Women runners win national title

Story by The Spectator staff

In 1984, the UW-Eau Claire women’s cross country team won the NAIA National Championship, making them the best Division III team in the country. Now, 25 years later, the team has reclaimed its title as the top team in the nation.

On Saturday, the No. 3 ranked Blugolds traveled to Highland Hills, Ohio, to compete in the NCAA Division III National Championships along with 31 other teams. Eau Claire netted 171 points in the race, nine better than second place St. Lawrence University (N.Y.), 24 points better than third place Calvin College (Mich.) and 74 points better than fourth place Middelbury College (Vt.).

Eau Claire has steadily improved over the past few years to become a contender for the national title – the team finished No. 23 in 2005, No. 12 in 2006, eighth in 2007 and fifth in 2008. The victory was the first NCAA title for the cross country team and third in school history. The softball team won in 2008, and the men’s golf team won in 2001.

The Blugolds steadily improved over the course of the season as well. In the month of September, Eau Claire didn’t finish higher than third. Then, in the Blugold Open on Oct. 2, the Blugolds took first overall. The victory started a streak of six consecutive victories for Eau Claire, including the national championship.

Leading the way for the Blugolds was sophomore Alyssa Sybilrud, who finished No. 21 with a time of 22 minutes and 36.2 seconds. A little more than 14 seconds after Sybilrud finished, junior Margaret Ho crossed the finish line, finishing No. 33. Rounding out the top 50 for the Blugolds were junior Beth Easker and senior Hannah Humbach. Senior Jenna Smith was the last Blugold to score points for the Blugolds, with a time of 23:41.7, good enough for No. 110.

Also competing for the Blugolds were junior Elly Prunty and sophomore Kacey Rindy, who took No. 120 and No. 138 overall in a field of 280 runners.

On Tuesday, coach Dan Schwamberger, who was named NCAA Division III Midwest Regional Coach of the Year last week, was voted the NCAA Division III coach of the year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Schwamberger also guided the men’s cross country team to its first appearance in the NCAA National Tournament since 1999. They finished No. 16 out of 32. This year was the first time in school history that both cross country teams competed in the national tournament in the same year.