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Nov. 1, 2009
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Propelled by an individual victory from senior Bridget Franek (Hiram, Ohio) the No. 18 Nittany Lion women's cross country team captured the program's first-ever Big Ten Cross Country Championship, Sunday at the Blue/White Golf Course.
"Today was amazing," said Director and Head Coach of Track and Field/Cross Country Beth Alford-Sullivan. "You couldn't have scripted it any better. We came into this thinking that we had a shot at a championship but so did Minnesota and so did Illinois. We just knew that we had to execute at 100-percent."
In a two-woman battle with NCAA 5,000-meter champion Angela Bizzari of Illinois for much of the race, Franek took full advantage of the challenging hills on the latter half of her home course, pulling away from her Illini foe and speeding down the home stretch to win her first career conference cross country title. Franek's winning time of 20:03 over the 6,000-meter race is the second-fastest time ever run on the Blue/White Golf Course.
"It was awesome," said Franek. "It's truly amazing to be on the team that won, and win the individual race. I think it's a testament to being on our home course and knowing it really well, and feeling comfortable at home. I think that helped a lot."
"Going into the race, I really tried to not focus so much on results but on just taking advantage of the competition and seeing what I could do against it," said Franek of her race plan. "I just tried to prepare myself for the race to the best of my ability, and hoped that that was enough to pull off the win."
"Bridget was absolutely flawless today," continued Sullivan. "She set the tone for this championship drive, and everyone came out and the fought and it really did come down to a homestretch kick."
Running second for the Nittany Lions was freshman Nicole Lord (Media, Pa.), who finished ninth overall in 20:52. Lord's impressive effort, which was the highest finish among rookies in the entire field, was good for second team All-Big Ten accolades. Classmate Brooklyne Ridder (Cincinnati, Ohio) was the next Lion finisher and the third freshman in the field, scoring a 16th-place effort in 21:16.
"This group of freshmen and sophomores have been the spark that its taken for this team to really unite," said Sullivan of her contingent of underclassmen. "They really have a selfless confidence, and they're just a group of kids that love what they're doing, and they're committed to what they're doing.
Closing hard down the homestretch as the Lions' fourth and fifth was sophomore duo Caitlin Lane (Greenwich, N.Y.) and Kara Millhouse (Boiling Springs, Pa.), who would wind up 22nd and 23rd, respectively. Lane would stop the clock at 21:24, while Millhouse finished right on her heels in 21:27.
Freshman Natalie Bower (Pleasant Unity, Pa.) and senior Claire Berryman (Morgantown, W.Va.) rounded out the Nittany Lion top seven, turning in 39th and 41st-place finishes, running 21:48, and 21:50, respectively.
The Nittany Lions totaled 71 points, edging out Illinois and Minnesota in the tightly contested top three. Illinois would take runner up honors with 77 points, while Minnesota would place third with 80. Michigan scored 122 for fourth, with Michigan State rounding out the top five with 137.
Next up for the Nittany Lions is the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships on Nov. 14, at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, in Princess Anne, Md. The top two teams at the race will automatically advance to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 23, along with the top four individuals.