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Runners Rock 'n' Roll in Cleveland

KEENE, N.H. 11/19/09 - Longtime Keene State cross country coach Peter Thomas hasn’t quite finished his itinerary for his team’s trip to the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championship that takes place on Saturday in Highland Hills, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland. The women’s race starts at 11 a.m., followed by the men’s competition at noon.

Looking to fill some downtime before the race, Thomas hopes a trip to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame will have his runners ready to shake, rattle, and roll when they step to starting line at the Highland Park Golf Course, the site of this year’s national championship.

“I say, let’s keep it rolling,” said Eric MacKnight, a junior from Newtown, Conn., who was the Owls second-man at last Saturday’s New England Regional Championship in Cumberland, Maine. “The season isn’t over. It might be icing on the cake for some people, but we still have more to prove as a team and as individuals.”

A perennial qualifier to the championships from 1997-2005, the Owl men’s cross country team, ranked 22nd in this week’s national poll, earned their first trip to the national meet in three years with their third-place finish at the regional race. Paige Mills, a sophomore from Keene, also made the trip to Ohio after earning an at-large berth with her sixth-place finish in Cumberland.

Except for Jared Samuel (Londonderry, N.H.), who earned an at-large berth as a sophomore, the remaining Keene State runners are making their first trip to the NCAA championship. Thomas says he isn’t concerned about his teams’ inexperience. “I’m going to tell them to treat it just like the regionals. Get out toward the front and run relaxed,” he said.

But saying and doing are two different things. “I’m already tossing and turning at night thinking about the race,” said Samuel, who led the Owls with a seventh-place finish at the regionals. “I’m a senior, so this is my last chance to earn All-America in cross country.” Samuel will be joined in the Keene State pack by juniors Jeff Trethewey (Merrimack, N.H.), Brandon Schillemat (Nelson, N.H.), Eric MacKnight (Newtown, Conn.), and Tim Pipp (New Ipswich, N.H.). Sophomore Kevin Hoyt (Newtown, N.H.) and freshman Andrew Sears (Derry, N.H.) round out the KSC competitors.

Other Owls are looking at the trip as a rare opportunity and a way to gain valuable experience running in the national spotlight. “Going to the nationals is surreal,” said Pipp, KSC’s fifth-man at the regional. “It’s something I never thought I’d be a part of.”

“I’ve been thinking about this since the first day I got here as a freshman,” said Trethewey. “Making All-America is definitely in the back of my mind.”

“It’s the summation of everything we work for all season,” said Schillemat. “I’m looking forward to getting out on the course and seeing what can happen.”

What does Thomas think will happen? “If we have an average day, we’ll probably finish around 15th. If we run well, we could be around 10th,” he said. “Somewhere in the middle of the field would be good.” As far as adding to the long list of Keene State All-Americans, Thomas said Samuel and Mills are the Owls best bets, with Trethewey also in the running.

The men’s race on Saturday will feature seven of the top 10 teams from last year’s championship, including defending champ SUNY-Cortland. Top-ranked North Central (Ill.) College will be looking to claim its 13th national title after being the runner-up last year.

If Mills earns All-America, it would be quite a feat. Hampered by a pulled muscle, the sophomore has spent the week leading up to the championship rehabbing in the pool and on the bike. Despite the setback, Mills plans to give it her all on Saturday. “I’m going to run a hard race, and if I can’t walk afterwards for a few days, that’s fine,” she said. “I’m going to put it all on the line on Saturday.”

Hoping to be at the startling line on Saturday, KSC junior Allison Chamberlain (Scarborough, Maine) failed to qualify after dropping out of the regional race with an injury. Chamberlain was among the leaders at the time, and Mills will still feel her presence. “I’m going to picture her right next to me,” said Mills. “That’s what I do in my workouts when she’s not there.”

The women’s race features five of the top 10 teams from last year’s championship, including defending champ Middlebury College, who has won five national titles.

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