Though the women’s cross-country team remains the only team to win the Empire 8 Conference Championship after its first-place finish Saturday, it is still looking to earn recognition at the regional and national levels.
The team captured its ninth consecutive conference title Saturday at Saratoga Spa State Park in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. It tallied a season-best of 19 points, finishing 45 points ahead of the second place team, Nazareth College.
Head Coach Bill Ware said winning the Empire 8 title has become customary for the South Hill squad.
“Not only have we won it every year, but we’ve had the top runner every year as well,” he said.
Last year’s squad posted a team record of 16 points at the conference championships, which was 52 points ahead of the rest of the field. The Bombers’ largest margin of victory in their streak of nine Empire 8 Conference titles was in 2007, when they defeated rival Alfred University by 63 points.
Utica College Head Coach Jason Rose led his team to a second-place finish this season, but gave credit to the Bombers. He said the Blue and Gold’s constant success is because of their training and recruiting.
“We were hoping to pull something out of a hat, but obviously it didn’t happen,” he said.
There was tighter competition within the team at this year’s conference championship, as graduate student Alissa Kersey overtook senior captain Heidi Baumbach in the 5,000-meter run. Baumbach was the team’s leading runner during the regular season. She finished first in both the 4,000- and 6,000-meter runs at the Cortland Jack Daniels Invitational on Sept. 24 and the Oberlin Inter-Regional Rumble on Oct. 15.
Baumbach said having Kersey, especially in this race, allowed them to work together and hold off Utica College junior Katie Day, who finished just three seconds behind Baumbach and Kersey.
“We told each other that we could help each other through the tough parts of the race and run together,” Baumbach said. “We planned to run together the whole way and push each other.”
Kersey, who was named the Empire 8 Runner of the Week on Monday, returned to compete for the Blue and Gold in the Hamilton Invitational on Oct. 8 and became the team’s second-best runner.
Ware said Kersey has brought experience to the South Hill squad this season.
“She talks to the team about tradition and how important this meet is because we have done so well in the past,” he said.
Freshman Anastasia Diamond said competing in the conference championships helped her learn to set long term and short term goals for herself as well as the team.
“I like that it was a bigger race, and it was nice to realize that maybe that can be me up there with the head of the pack,” she said. “It is certainly something I can work for and see what I can achieve.”
Despite winning the Empire 8 Conference Championship, the Blue and Gold are still aware that they need to beat a formidable opponent in host St. Lawrence University. The Saints are ranked first in the United States Track and Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association’s Atlantic Regional Poll despite placing only one runner in the top five at last weekend’s Liberty League Championship.
The South Hill squad matched up against St. Lawrence on Oct. 22 at the New York State Collegiate Track Conference Championships, but lost 56-24. Baumbach finished second overall at the meet, but the Saints’ depth allowed them to place four runners in the top five.
The Bombers finished seventh overall at last season’s regional championships and are motivated to finish higher this season.
Baumbach said though she and the team posted winning times at the conference championships, the Bombers will have to run as a group to match up and challenge St. Lawrence.
“We use the Empire 8 meet to focus on our goals and working together, and we need to have the consistency that has allowed us to be successful all season,” she said.