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Keene State Sends Four Runners to NCAA Cross Country Championships

KEENE, N.H. 11/18/10 - Near the conclusion of the inspirational 1989 baseball movie Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella finally gets to meet his father John, one of the many former ghost-like players, who magically return to the field.

John asks: “Is this heaven?”

Ray replies: “It’s Iowa.”

“Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven,” John says.

“Is there a heaven?” Ray asks.

“Oh, yeah,” replies John. “It’s the place where dreams come true.”

Four members of the Keene State College cross country teams hope their All- America dreams come true when they travel to Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, for the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships on Saturday.

Although the Owls came up short in qualifying a team for the championships, Keene State will be well represented in both races. Seniors Tim Pipp (Keene, N.H.) and Eric MacKnight (Newtown, Conn.) will compete in the men’s race, while juniors Paige Mills (Keene, N.H.) and Andrea Walsh (Bolton, Conn.) will be in the women’s field.

All four Owl runners earned at-large berths to the national meet at last weekend’s New England regional championship at Williamstown, Mass. Pipp and MacKnight followed each other to the finish line, placing fourth and fifth respectively. Leading for most of the race, Mills, who had been ill a few days before the race, had to settle for second place when she ran out of gas, falling 15 yards from the finish line. Walsh finished 12th to earn her trip to the “Hawkeye State.”

Pipp and MacKnight will be making their second straight trip to the championships. Both were members of an Owl team that finished a disappointing 29th at last year’s meet. “I showed last weekend that I belong up there with the top runners and deserve a trip to nationals,” said Pipp. “I’m really excited to see what Eric and I can do.”

Pipp, who has moved up the Owls’ cross country ladder the past three years, says his goal is to earn All-America honors. “When I came to Keene State, I wanted to make the varsity. Once I made varsity, I wanted to make nationals and I did that,” he said. “So the next step is All-American. I can’t explain what that would mean to me.” Keene State will be sending two at-large women runners to the nationals for the first time since 2002 when Mary Proulx and Karen Jordan qualified for the event.

Despite taking a fall in the regional race, Mills says she is ready to roll on Saturday and will benefit from last year’s NCAA experience. “Last year I was at a different fitness level and coming off an injury,” said Mills, who called the NCAAs the most intense race of her life. “I’m going into the race feeling much more comfortable.”

Making great strides every season, Walsh is thrilled about making her first trip to the championships. “I couldn’t believe I did it. It still hasn’t sunk in,” she said. “It’s great to see that all my hard work and effort this season has paid off.”

So how will the Owl foursome fare on the rolling hills of the Max cross country course? Head Coach Peter Thomas feels all four Owls can finish in the top 35 and be in contention for All-America honors. “If they stay aggressive and run like they did on Saturday, they’ll be in the hunt,” he said.

Over the years, Keene State has produced a combined 47 cross country All- Americans (40 men and seven women). Lately, however, the Owls have come up short in their All-America quest. Jenn Adams was the last KSC woman to earn the honor, in 2007. Meanwhile, to find the last member of the Owl men’s team to earn the honor, you have go back six years to when Dave Bridgewater returned to Keene with an All-America certificate in 2004. “We’re way overdue,” said Thomas.

The pastoral setting around Wartburg College resembles the quaint Midwestern locale of Dubuque County, where Field of Dreams was shot. While racing this weekend, Keene State runners would be well served to heed the advice of the voice in the movie who told Ray to “go the distance.”

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