November 13, 2007
Eagles have overcome odds to run Saturday
EVANSVILLE, Ind.—By all accounts, a team that suffers the amount of injuries that the University of Southern Indiana women's cross country team has suffered in 2007 should not be competing at the NCAA II Championships.
However, nobody told that to the No. 17 Screaming Eagles, who will make their first appearance at the national meet since 2005 Saturday in Joplin, Missouri.
USI has overcome a plethora of injuries to make its way to Joplin, a place that seemed a long way away when it lost its top two runners at the start of the season. The goal of going to Joplin seemed to fade in the distance when you add in the season-ending loses to three more competitors that were projected to be in the Eagles' top seven.
November 3, however, was a day that the Eagles would rise to the occasion, overcome the odds, and book their trip to the NCAA II Championships. The Eagles, minus five of their projected top seven runners, finished fourth at the NCAA II Great Lakes Region Championships, earning the right to compete for a national championship.
"If you would have told me at the outset of the season that we would lose five of our top eight to injury, I probably would have resigned," Head Coach Mike Hillyard said. "To take so many heavy hits and still stay focused on our goals and follow through on them is a real testament to the character and toughness of this team. They are a lion-hearted group of young ladies and I am extremely proud of them."
Part of the reason the Eagles have been able to overcome the odds is the performance of sophomore Mary Ballinger (Chesterton, Indiana). Ballinger, who was fourth at the GLVC Championships and third at the NCAA II Great Lakes Region Championships, has stepped in to be the Eagles' top runner after an injury forced All-American Allison Shafer (Plainville, Indiana) and All-GLVC competitor Katy Simutis (Mt. Vernon, Indiana) out of the lineup before the season began.
"Mary has been nothing short of a godsend for us this fall," Hillyard said. "More important than her front-running on the course has been her leadership on a daily basis at practice. She stepped in from day one and helped set the tone for our team this fall.
"She has a very good chance to finish among the top 15 on Saturday," Hillyard continued. "Mary is a very aggressive racer who won't be afraid to mix it up at the front in a national meet."
For most of the season, the Eagles got a huge boost from junior Marcia Weflen (Rossville, Indiana). Weflen, however, was not able to compete at the NCAA II Great Lakes Region Championships, leaving the Eagles in serious jeopardy of missing out on their trip to Joplin.
Insert freshman Leslee Getts (Corunna, Indiana). All Getts did was go from a 19th-place finish at the conference meet to a 19th-place finish at the regional meet, a performance that gave the Eagles a huge lift in their quest for Joplin.
"Leslee was phenomenal for us at the NCAA II Great Lakes Region Championship," Hillyard said. "To run 19th at conference and turn around and run 19th at the regional meet really gave us a boost."
USI also got solid efforts out of senior Meagan Scheidler (Terre Haute, Indiana), sophomore Sarah Whiteman (Bloomington, Indiana), and sophomore Lacy Williams (Haubstadt, Indiana) at the NCAA II Great Lakes Region Championships. Scheidler was 34th, while Whiteman and Williams were 41st and 55th, respectively.
Sophomore Sarah Baysden (Shelbyville, Indiana) and freshman Holly Bartelt (Evansville, Indiana) round out USI's line up heading into nationals. Baysden was 58th at the regional meet, while Bartelt finished 76th.
*Note: In order to earn All-America status, a runner must be in the top 30 or one of the top 30 U.S. born runners…the Eagles depart for Joplin Wednesday morning and will take seven men and seven women, with an alternate for each team…the women's 6k begins at 10:30 a.m., whil