By GREG LAUDANI
What did we learn from Saturday’s America East Cross Country Championships?
The UNH women’s cross-country team remains undoubtedly the conference’s cream of the crop.
Senior co-captain Laura Rose Donegan captured second place overall (18 minutes, 9.70 seconds) to power the Wildcats to an America East title for the third straight season and fourth time in program history Saturday morning at Stony Brook University.
“We’ve had a lot of moving parts this year but we were still able to come together and win as a team,” Donegan said. “It felt good to win today and I’m so happy we were able to win our third straight championship together as a team.”
Donegan’s race, which was her fastest ever at the league championship meet, facilitated UNH to score a meet-best 45 points, which beat out conference rivals University at Albany (57 points) and Stony Brook University (77 points), who finished second and third, respectively.
“She is a superstar in my mind,” UNH head coach Robert Hoppler, who earned his third straight America East Coaching Staff of the Year award with the title, said of Donegan. “We depend on her every time she is out there and she ran a great race today against some fantastic competition.”
In addition to Donegan, the Wildcats obtained two more top-seven performances by seniors Amber Short and Brianna Boden. Short placed fourth overall in 18:36.78 while Boden crossed the finish line seventh (18:54.19).
The dynamic senior trio of Donegan, Short and Boden all received America East First Team All-Conference recognition after placing within the top-seven finishers.
“This is a really big accomplishment for this team and for these kids,” Hoppler said. “It’s a brand new team this season and today we went out and competed with a ton of heart and guts.”
Senior Samantha Blais also turned in a strong effort, placing 13th overall and fourth for the Wildcats in 19:07.61, earning All-Conference Second Team honors for herself.
Juniors Amanda Szymanski and Sarah Keiran followed Blais with19th and 20th-place finishes, respectively. Szymanski completed the race in 19:23.38 while Keiran finished in 19:24.08. Freshman Shannon Murdock placed 23rd overall in 19:23.93 and rounded out UNH’s top-seven performances.
Donegan said Hoppler reinforced his belief in the team the night prior to the title meet. She said that helped the team realize its potential to take care of business.
“He was telling us that if we came out and ran as well as we could, we would have a good day,” she said. “That was huge knowing he was confident that we could do it. It was a good feeling and I definitely think it carried over for us during the meet.”
The Wildcats run between 50-80 miles each week for about 50 weeks a year, according to Hoppler. With that said, the head coach described this championship as a testament to the team’s work ethic and dedication to the program.
“We don’t have an offseason, so it becomes a lifestyle and a choice,” he said. “They’ve committed to each other and to the hard work it takes to be good. This is a great reward for all of that hard work.”
Next up for the Wildcats is the NCAA Regional Championships on Friday, Nov. 13 at Franklin Park in Boston, where they look to qualify for a shot at the NCAA Championships. Hoppler said the team is on the hunt for a top-10 finish.
Women’s team completes three-peat
By GREG LAUDANI