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Owl Harriers to Race at NCAA Cross Country Championship

KEENE, N.H. 11/15/05 - Despite his many years watching Owl teams tackle the trails at national meets, longtime Keene State College Coach Peter Thomas doesn’t know what to expect when his men’s cross country team, along with Jennifer Adams from the women’s squad, travels to Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio for Saturday’s NCAA Division III championship.

“This has been a surprise team. I don’t know what to expect from one week to the next,” said Thomas. “Hopefully we can have a day when everyone is firing on all cylinders.”

The Owls, who are making their ninth consecutive trip to the Division III meet, earned the berth with a little too close for comfort third-place finish at last Saturday’s New England regional championship. Keene State, ranked 17th nationally, was led by seniors Joseph Hegarty (Springfield, Mass.) and Ryan Gough (Billerica, Mass.), who finished fifth and ninth respectively in the race. “I’d feel a lot better if we ran a little faster this past weekend, but at least we’re going,” said Thomas. “There are 40 other teams from New England sitting home.”

The national runner-up in 1999 and 2000, Keene State hasn’t fared well at the championships of late. After placing eighth in 2003, the Owls finished a disappointing 20th at last year’s meet.

Handicapping the field, Thomas feels defending champ Calvin (Mich.) College, Wisconsin-Lacrosse, Nebraska-Wesleyan, and Tufts are the teams to beat.

How will Keene State do? “If we run the same way as last weekend, we’ll be about 15th,” Thomas concedes. “Hopefully, we can run a little better and sneak into the top 10.”

Joining Hegarty and Gough in the Owls’ lead pack will be fellow seniors Matt Haley (Middlleton, Mass.) and Pat Ard (Kingston, N.H.) and sophomore Kevin Kelleher (Rocky Hill, Conn.). Junior Joseph Reynolds (Bryant Pond, Me.) and freshman Brock Welch (Merrimack, N.H.) round out KSC’s competitors.

“We haven’t collectively run a good race all season,” said Hegarty. “This would be the time to do it. No one is expecting too much from us, so we have nothing to lose.”

“We can run just as fast as anyone else, “added Ard. “It’s just a matter of staying with the top group and gutting it out the whole race.”

Thomas feels both Gough and Hegarty have a good chance of finishing in the top35 and earning All-America honors. “They haven’t done it before, so it’s a question of overcoming internal pressure,” said Thomas. “They have to stay focused and run their race and not get caught up in the excitement.”

Adams, a sophomore from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., should also be in the running for All-America in the women’s field. Climbing to the top of the Owls’ pack this season, she became the sixth women’s runner at KSC to qualify for the nationals with her stellar second-place finish at the regional race on Saturday.

“My first goal was to qualify for nationals, and my next will be to earn All- America,” said Adams, who posted the best finish ever by an Owl women’s runner at the regional race. “I do better when I’m running under pressure, so hopefully I can go out and try to execute my race plan.”

“Jennifer has risen to the occasion all season, but the NCAA’s are a very large stage, and she hasn’t been on that stage yet,” cautions Thomas. “We have to make sure she doesn’t get stage fright.”

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