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Women's Cross Country/Track and Field

May 23, 2009

Ballinger claims national title in steeplechase

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Mary Ballinger

SAN ANGELO, Texas—University of Southern Indiana junior All-American Mary Ballinger (Chesterton, Indiana) claimed her first national championship of her career Saturday as she finished first in the 3,000-meter steeplechase Saturday evening at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Ballinger dominated the field as she finished the race with a school-record time of 10 minutes, 22.98 seconds, less than three seconds off the NCAA II meet record. Her time also was nearly 15 seconds faster than that of Western State College's Lisa Thomas, who was second with a time of 10 minutes, 37.48 seconds.

"She had her eye on the Division II record all spring," Head Coach Mike Hillyard said. "We talked about that being the focus and how it would affect the pace of the competition if she went after the mark."

Ballinger was aggressive from the start, with just one runner keeping up with her throughout the first 1,200 meters. "She had a couple of 86-second laps and closed with an 81-second lap," Hillyard said. "It was pretty windy on the back-stretch and with her running so far ahead of the field, she really had no shielding. The only thing that matters though is that she won the national championship."

"I went out hard from the gun," Ballinger explained. "I ran my own race and that's what my goal was."

The national championship is the seventh in USI history and the third by a female student athlete at USI. "It's great for the entire athletic program to add another one to the mantle," Hillyard said. "It's great for our program to have another national championship and with Mary being a junior; we have a good chance to get another one next year."

"I had never won anything like this before, not even a state championship" Ballinger recalled. "The last lap was probably the toughest, but it was thrilling coming toward the finish line and it was awesome to know that I was going to win my first big race."

Ballinger joins former standouts Heather Cooksey and Candace Perry as the only female student athletes in Screaming Eagles' history to win the national championship. Cooksey won a national title in the 3,000 meters to conclude the 2004 outdoor season, while Perry captured a national championship in the long jump to finish the 2005 outdoor campaign.

USI and GLVC Hall of Fame member Elly Rono captured a national championship in cross country in 1997 and pair of national titles in indoor and outdoor track in 1998. The men's basketball team captured the school's first-ever national championship in 1995.

Dan McDonnell,
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