TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Ending a drought of fifteen years, junior Aaron Nelson completed one of the best seasons ever by a Husky men’s distance runner today, powering over the sloppy, muddy 10,000-meters of muck at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course for a 20th-place finish. Following Nelson’s All-American performance, the 20th-ranked Husky women’s team turned in a solid team effort to improve on their ranking coming in and finish 17th overall despite some unfortunate spills.
Nelson’s breakout season was capped with the best finish by a Husky at the NCAA meet since Christian Belz finished 17th in 1998. That was the last time a Husky earned All-America honors until today. The Walla Walla native was running as an individual after finishing eighth at the West Region meet last week. He outdid that effort today, clocking 30:27 to grab the 20th spot.
“What he did today was what we believed he was capable of doing,” said Head Coach Greg Metcalf. “He felt great and was purposeful in his run. He went out with the single-minded goal to be an All-American today. You talk to kids about what you hope they’re going to do, and how to go do it, and he followed the plan to a tee. For him to finish 20th-place, it’s outstanding, and for a guy who’s never been in the meet before. He had a great day and it was fun.”
Positioning himself well early around the 50th spot, Nelson moved up over the second 2k and attached to the back of the big chase pack of around 20 runners. Heading into the second loop, he had his only moment of conflict.
“The first 5k went by like nothing, and all of a sudden I’m halfway through the race and feeling like I haven’t started racing yet. Then a pack started to form and people started moving a bit and I wasn’t sure if I had the energy to maintain in that position,” Nelson said. “I kind of struggled for a few ‘k’ in the middle there but then all of a sudden found myself back in it and was rolling some people up. That was kind of a second wind for me.”
Nelson’s placing is the third-best mark by a Husky men’s runner in history, bettered only by Simon Baines’ 10th-place finish in 1993, and Belz’s 17th-place mark in 1998.
“The course conditions were really rough, but I hung in tough and stayed up there with the top group,” Nelson said. “They started to fade away a little, some people died off, and I kind of found myself up in the top-30, and just moved. I’m really excited about this race, I’m really happy. My main goal today was just to be top-40 and to be top-20 was even sweeter.”
The women were hoping for a sixth top-10 finish in seven years today but had to settle for a seventh consecutive top-20 finish after the course took top runners Katie Flood and Megan Goethals as two of its victims.
Flood and Goethals were part of an early pile-up, and Flood lost her shoe and had to sit down and put it back on just a thousand meters into the race, at which point she was dead last. A third of the way through the race, Flood was 215th out of more than 250 runners. At the next checkpoint, the 4,000-meter mark, Flood had moved all the way up to 127th. Over the last 2k, she passed 43 more runners to wind up 84th overall in 21:13.
Goethals also had to make up a ton of ground after getting buried back in the pack early. She went by 36 runners over the last 2k to finish 80th in 21:11. It’s the second straight year that Goethals has come back from a stress fracture at the start of the season to lead the Huskies at the NCAA Championships.
“There were a couple of small disasters that I think our team actually recovered well from,” said Metcalf. “Katie Flood goes down 800-meters in, loses a show, puts her shoe back on, and still manages to stay sort of calm and finish 84th. She came in here with lofty aspirations and that’s a hard pill to swallow, because honestly I believe she’s a top-20 finisher today based on everything we’ve seen over the last month and where she’s headed. Megan went down also, she was excited and had aspirations of being an All-American as well, so we could focus on what went wrong, and if those two both don’t go down maybe we’re a top-10 team, but I think our team persevered and ran all right today. We’ve had worse days here, we’ve had better days here, so overall it was a solid effort by our ladies.”
Katie Flood went from 215th to 84th over the last two-thirds of the race, after falling and suffering a cut visible here.
Senior Liberty Miller was the third Husky finisher, taking 96th in 21:17 in her last cross country race. That was the best NCAA finish in four appearances for Miller. Freshmen Amy-Eloise Neale and Katie Knight were the fourth and fifth scorers for the Dawgs today in their first run over the NCAA course. Neale took 121st overall in 21:26 and Knight was just three seconds back in 128th-place.
In her final Husky appearance, senior Justine Johnson finished 134th overall in 21:32, passing 19 runners over the last 2k. Johnson ran in the top-seven at each of the past four NCAA Championships, all top-20 finishes. Sophomore Maddie Meyers also had a solid day finishing right behind Johnson in 138th-place in a time of 21:34.
“I was proud of those Libby and Justine,” said Metcalf. “It’s good when there’s some emotion in the group leaving the tent to go home. It means they care a lot about each other. Justine has been great, and had a great career here. Libby and Katie we get to have for two more track seasons.”
The Providence women took the team title with 141 points, beating out Arizona (197) and Butler (200). The Huskies wound up with 376 points. The Pac-12 Champion Colorado men won the team title with 149 points over Northern Arizona (169) and defending champ Oklahoma State (230).
NCAA Cross Country Championships
November 23, 2013 – Terre Haute, Ind.
LaVern Gibson Championship Course
Team Results (Top-Five): 1. Colorado 149; 2. Northern Arizona 169; 3. Oklahoma State 230; 4. BYU 267; 5. Oregon 274.
Individual Champion: Edward Cheserek, Oregon, 29:41.
Husky Finishers: 20. Aaron Nelson 30:27 (All-American)
Team Results (Top-20 out of 31): 1. Providence 141; 2. Arizona 197; 3. Butler 200; 4. Michigan 215; 5. Georgetown 226; 6. Michigan State 236; 7. Colorado 265; 8. Florida State 278; 9. Virginia 283; 10. New Mexico 301; 11. Stanford 322; 12. William and Mary 326; 13. Iowa State 333; 14. Oregon 340; 15. Arkansas 340; 16. Dartmouth 369; 17. Washington 376; 18. San Francisco 385; 19. Villanova 397; 20. Minnesota 406.
Individual Champion: Abbey D’Agostino, Dartmouth, 20:00.
Husky Finishers: 80. Megan Goethals 21:11; 84. Katie Flood 21:13; 96. Liberty Miller 21:17; 121. Amy-Eloise Neale 21:26; 128. Katie Knight 21:29; 134. Justine Johnson 21:32; 138. Maddie Meyers 21:34.