Merrimack Cross Country Soars to New Heights

The Merrimack College cross country program has been a beacon of consistency for the Athletic Department over the years: always competitive, year in and year out, while always on the cusp of something great, something historic.

Longtime head coach Chris Cameron had coached plenty of great teams, including a three-year run in the late 1990s that saw the women’s side claim the Northeast-10 Conference crown in three consecutive seasons. The men, meanwhile, had several strong years of their own, and both sides had a sound foundation in place to make some noise this fall.

To say that goal was accomplished would be a massive understatement, as Merrimack cross country took off to levels not seen on campus in, for one side, many years, and for another, ever.

Highlighted by the Warrior women qualifying for the NCAA National Championships for the first time in program history and the men’s side enjoying one of their best years in recent memory at the conference and regional level, the 2013 Merrimack College cross country campaign will go down as one of the best in school history, and one that Cameron – or his student-athletes – won’t be forgetting for quite some time.

The building process for this year’s squads took time, and a youthful Merrimack showed flashes of brilliance in the fall of 2012. Plenty of potential had been set into place thanks to the tremendous talent that lay in both sides’ underclassman ranks; the X-factor in the 2013 season, then, would be how that talent would develop from last year, in addition to the always unpredictable ability to stay healthy, and the infusion of more young talent to compliment what was already a solid nucleus of veterans.

September saw both sides impress at their respective events; the men finished no lower than fourth in any race and started the season off tremendously with a second-place finish at the Shacklette Invitational. The women, meanwhile, won the Kirsch Cross Country Cup and finished runner-up at the Cod Fish Bowl Invitational two weeks later, placing no lower than third throughout the month.

But as the calendar turned to October, the focus and intensity ramped up, as both sides prepared for the annual New England Championships and Northeast-10 Championships. Adding to the excitement was the fact that Merrimack had a target on its back, as the women garnered votes in the USTFCCCA National Rankings for the first time in recent memory. Both sides were also ranked in the top-half of the East Regional Rankings on a weekly basis.

At New England’s, both sides performed admirably at one of the toughest courses of the year, as the men improved their time from two weeks prior exponentially en route to placing 27th – defeating five Division I teams in the process. The women meanwhile finished 29th to round out the day.

A week later, all sights were set on the Northeast-10 Championships, where both sides felt confident that not only could they make noise, but post their best finishes in recent memory. Both the men and women did not disappoint; the men saw sophomore Nick Christensen (Peabody, Mass.) place 12th to earn All-Conference honors while the team placed sixth, their best finish in six years. The women, meanwhile, saw sophomore Kristin Schmidt (Athens, N.Y.) and senior Fiona Coleman (Shelton, Windsor, Conn.) earn all-conference status, as well, helping the team place fourth.

With the league championships in the rearview mirror, Merrimack turned to November with even greater goals in mind. The NCAA Regionals, in every previous season in the history of the program, meant the season’s final race, but the goal this fall was to place among the race’s top-three teams and earn a berth in the National Championships.

Guided by a pair of top-20 finishes, the women’s side did exactly that, as All-Region performers Schmidt and Coleman again powered the Warriors to a third-place finish in the field of 25, setting off a wild celebration after the squad realized exactly what had been done. For the first time in school history, Merrimack would be represented at the national level, as the women punched their ticket to Spokane, Wash., for the Division II Women’s Cross Country National Championships.

The men, meanwhile, ended the year on a high note, placing ninth at a team at Regionals backed by Christensen’s 19th-place finish. The race capped off a strong year for the men’s side that saw new heights reached at the conference and regional level. With only two seniors on the roster, the men should be right back in the thick of things next fall.

But for the women, a historic season continued on Nov. 23, as the Warriors made the westward trek from North Andover to Spokane. There, on a frigid Saturday in the Pacific Northwest, Merrimack garnered the attention of the nation’s best, running valiantly while wrapping up one of the best years in program history at the highest level.

Both sides saw plenty of contributors over the course of the year, from underclassmen and upperclassmen alike. For the men, Christensen followed up his stellar rookie year with a strong sophomore campaign, earning All-East Region and All-Conference honors, while Coleman and Schmidt did likewise on the women’s side. Freshmen Dan Brien (Pittsfield, Mass.) and Claire Aalerud (Winchester, Mass.) each garnered one NE-10 Rookie of the Week honor over the course of the year, as well.

This is the fifth in a series of recaps summarizing a successful fall season at Merrimack.

December 9: Women’s Soccer
December 11: Football
December 13: Men’s Soccer
December 16: Field Hockey
December 18: Cross Country
December 20: Women’s Volleyball

About Mike McMahon 6234 Articles
Mike McMahon is in his 13th year covering Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report. Mike also serves on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN

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