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Originally published Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Washington women win NCAA cross country title

Washington won its first NCAA women's cross-country championship on Monday in Terre Haute, Ind.

Special to The Seattle Times

Related

UW national titles

Football 1991.

Men's crew 1923, 1924, 1926, 1936, 1937, 1940, 1941, 1948, 1950, 1970, 1997, 2007.

Women's crew* 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002.

Women's cross country* 2008.

Volleyball 2005.

* These championships are not recognized by the Pac-10 because the "champion" is determined by poll. Men's rowing is not an NCAA-governed sport, and before 1997, women's rowing wasn't, either.

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Senior Anita Campbell's voice cracked with emotion as she tried to comprehend the dizzying heights the Washington women's cross-country team reached during her four seasons.

Who could blame her? There was a time in the not-so-distant past when 94th place in the NCAA women's cross country championships was the high point of the meet for Washington.

That's where Campbell finished her freshman season after she qualified as an individual for the 2005 NCAA meet. The Huskies didn't qualify to send a full team Campbell's first two seasons.

Now Campbell, and the rest of her teammates, are on top of the world. Washington won its first NCAA women's cross-country championship on Monday — and the Huskies did it with ease.

Washington's winning score of 79 bested runner-up and Pac-10 rival Oregon by 52 points. None of the Huskies' seven runners finished worse than 51st — no other team had all of its runners in the top 100.

"I've believed in the coaches from day one," Campbell said. "They told me, 'You're the start of it, but we want to keep building in your four years. By your senior year, we want this to be a great team.' They've brought the girls to make it happen. This hasn't been a mistake."

Freshman Christine Babcock was the highest-placed Husky, finishing seventh in 20 minutes, 1.7 seconds, but the Huskies maintained a tight pack and Babcock had plenty of teammates just behind her. Fellow freshman Kendra Schaaf was 12th at 20:17.3. Sophomore Mel Lawrence (25th, 20:32.3), junior Katie Follett (26th, 20:32.5), senior Amanda Miller (34th, 20:37), sophomore Lauren Saylor (41st, 20:43.7) and Campbell (51st, 20:50.4) were all close behind.

"When we were on the [starting] line today, I was thinking, 'Man, there's a lot pressure on us today,' " Campbell said. "But I looked around me and I knew I could count on each and every one of the six girls around me. They weren't going to mess up."

To compute the Huskies' meteoric rise, it's imperative to look back on where they came from.

Until Monday, Washington had eight women's All-Americans in school history. Now, with five Huskies cracking the top 40 threshold that denotes All-American status, there are 13, including Campbell, who earned All-American status in 2007.

Until Monday, the best time any Husky had recorded at the 6,000-meter NCAA championships was Follett's 20:43 in 2007. Five Huskies bested that time in damp, cold and windy conditions.

Until Monday, Washington's best NCAA team finish was eighth and the Huskies had only two top-10 finishes since 1976.

The Huskies have won every meet this fall and ascended to the No. 1 ranking after a dominant pre-nationals victory on Oct. 18, conducted on the same Indiana course where the team won Monday.

"At the Auburn meet [Oct. 4], I had a meeting with the coaches afterward and I told them, 'This may be really naive of me, but I don't really understand how good we are. I don't get it yet,' " Lawrence said. "At the pre-nationals, I sort of started to get it, and by the Pac-10's I got it. We worked so well together to get to this amazing moment."

As it had planned, Washington collectively made its kick near the midway point of the race. Oregon led at 2,000 meters, but the Huskies had made up ground by the midpoint and led with ease at the 4,000-meter split.

"Honestly, our perspective is a little skewed. We had so much success from the pre-nationals, to the Pac-10 meet, to the regional meet," Washington coach Greg Metcalf said. "We didn't want to be afraid to lose, but we didn't want to be overaggressive. We didn't do that perfectly, but all in all, we did a great job."

Babcock's seventh-place finish was a minor surprise as Schaaf had been the highest-placed Husky in every meet she entered this season. Babcock improved her pre-nationals time by 13 seconds.

"I tried not to focus too much on the weather, I just went out there and ran. I tuned everything else out," Babcock said. "I pulled back a little bit [late in the race], but got a kick at the end."

Texas Tech's Sally Kipyego was the individual women's champion with a time of 19:28.1. She is the first three-time NCAA women's champion.

Washington's men's team finished 18th in the 10,000-meter men's championships. Oregon won the team championship as the Ducks bested runner-up Iona by 54 points. Oregon's Galen Rupp claimed first, pulling away from Liberty's Sam Chelanga to win by five seconds after a thrilling duel down the final straight.

David Kinsella, a University of Portland senior from Inglemoor High School, was fourth.

The UW men, who were ranked 21st, ran without senior Jeremy Mineau, their top finisher at the Pac-10 and regional meets. Mineau couldn't race Monday because of a foot injury.

Junior Jake Schmitt was the first Huskies finisher, placing 58th in 30:32.6.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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