By GREG LAUDANI
Laura Rose Donegan made a splash right away in her season debut.
The senior finished first in 18:57.29 to guide the UNH women’s cross country team to its first victory of 2015 at Stony Brook University’s Wolfie Invitational on Saturday morning. In addition to Stony Brook, the Wildcats also outraced the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Binghamton University.
UNH scored 30 points in the victory. UMBC scored 47, Stony Brook 64, and Binghamton 93.
Donegan did not race in the season opener last weekend for training reasons. She returned Saturday for her first-ever race at Stony Brook to earn her first career cross-country victory.
“It was nice to get a win here and I think we are looking really good as we head toward the conference meet,” Donegan said.
The Wildcats’ co-captain said her first race of the season is always a good test to see where she and her team are in their preparation for the fast-approaching and highly coveted America East Championships on Oct. 31.
UNH also received strong efforts from runners behind Donegan. In her second collegiate meet, freshman Shannon Murdock finished second for the Wildcats and fifth overall. Then a pack of Wildcats came after Murdock.
Senior Brianna Boden, juniors Sarah Keiran and Alexandra Giese came in seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively.
Donegan said she was happy with the way her teammates grouped together on Saturday.
“Everyone worked together really well and I think we made a lot of improvements from last week,” she said. “We had more runners staying together and finishing together, and that’s what you need to win cross country meets.”
The Wildcats return to Stony Brook on Oct. 31, for the America East title meet, where they seek to win their third straight conference crown. After running the course on a hot September day on Saturday, Donegan said the conditions are going to be more ideal when the weather is cooler in late October.
“I think coming down here will help us for when we come back, for sure,” Donegan said. “Having that experience of being on the course will help prepare us for what we’re going to face.”
UNH head coach Robert Hoppler is excited about his team’s mix of promising underclassmen with the established upperclassmen. He said he plans to use the next meet at the University of Maine to continue developing the younger runners.
And against a historically tough conference opponent in Maine, Hoppler said the competitive environment is going to be key in giving younger runners valuable meet experience.
“For teams to get better, they have to be asked to win meets,” he said. “That will help our younger runners get better. We’re looking to do that next week.”
UNH’s top five runners will likely sit out the Maine meet, including Donegan and co-captain Elinor Purrier, according to Hoppler. Purrier has yet to race this season as the team continues to prepare its veteran runners for the conference title meet.
The Wildcats take on their conference rival Black Bears at 3 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 18.