|Junior Chelsea Bishop and the rest of the women's cross country team are looking for a top-15 finish this weekend.|
By Jim Fenton
The Stonehill College cross country teams are making their annual trip to the NCAA Div. 2 Championships this week.
The 12th-ranked women will be competing in the national race for a 13th consecutive year after winning the East Regional while the 24th-ranked men are taking part for the 10th year in a row.
The Stonehill teams will be running on Saturday at the Robert W. Plaster Sports Complex on the campus of Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo.
Representing the women's team will be Whitman-Hanson Regional High graduate Emily Regan of Hanson, Coyle-Cassidy High graduate Brianna Venturo of Taunton, Caroline McBride, Chelsea Bishop, Sarah Biggers, Emily Anderson and Kristen Veit.
All seven earned All-East recognition after finishing in the top 23 to help the Skyhawks win the championship for a fourth year in a row earlier this month in Nashua, N.H.
"This is a great group,'' said coach Karen Boen. "It is one of probably the most solid, consistent, competitive performances we've had from a team.
"The top seven runners have been changed places all season. There is a 25-30 second split between the top five runners.''
McBride, a senior who was fourth at the regional race, did not run in the NCAAs last season after being Stonehill's eighth runner. She was solid throughout this fall, however, and is leading the way.
"It's an amazing improvement,'' said Boen. "She put in the work. She's really been great.''
Regan, a junior who was 15th at the East Regional to earn all-regional honors for the second time, was slowed by illness last season but has been a consistent runner this fall.
"She's always been a hard worker,'' said Boen. "Now that she's healthy again, she's really had a good year. She's just a tough kid.''
Venturo, a sophomore who was 23rd at the regional meet, "is just steady,'' said Boen. "She's just always there for you.''
Stonehill's best finish in the national meet was 10th in 2003 when the race was in Cary, N.C.
"I think we can be a top-15 team,'' said Boen. "This is definitely one of the strongest team we've had one-through-seven.''
The men's team, which was third at the East Regional, will be represented by seniors Sean Hanlon and Ethan Penney, juniors Paul Cina of Pembroke and Stephen Leonard, sophomores Dan Zawalich, Dan Gordon of Plymouth and Bryan Wilcox. Senior Tim Johnson will be the alternate.
"We've got a young group of dedicated runners,'' said Boen, who will have three first-time participants in the nationals in Wilcox, Gordon and Zawalich. "The young kids are afraid of nothing.
"It's been a solid team. We've had a different lead guy just about every race. We've had 10 guys finish in the top seven. One of the things we have going for us is our depth.''
Hanlon was 10th at the regional meet while Cina, Gordon, Penney and Zawalich were in the top 21.
Stonehill's best finish at the nationals was 12th in 2003, and Boen is hoping the Skyhawks can land in the top 15.