Women's Cross Country

Due South, Women's XC Off To A10's

Karen Roa heads into the weekend as UMass' top harrier.

Karen Roa heads into the weekend as UMass' top harrier.

Oct. 24, 2011

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The peak of the hill has come for the UMass women's cross country team, as the squad will be heading to the highly anticipated A-10 Championship Meet this Saturday in Charlotte, N.C. Preparing to face the Conference's best opponents, the Minutewomen will be in search of their eighth title in program history. The women's competition is set to commence promptly at 10:45 a.m.

A-10 Horizon
The last time the Minutewomen could call themselves A-10 Champions was back in 1999 when the team scored 44 points en route to the program's seventh Conference Title. All seven A-10 Crowns have come under the tutelage of head coach Julie LaFreniere, who has also garnered being tabbed A-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year six times.

This season, UMass brought home one weekly A-10 Award, when Karen Roa was tabbed A-10 Female Cross Country Performer of the Week on October 10 for her outstanding performance at the New England Championships (10/8).

At last year's A-10 Meet, the Minutewomen finished eighth in a field of 14 squads, and will be looking to improve upon that mark this Saturday in Charlotte, N.C.

The Richmond Spiders come into the weekend's race as the reigning A-10 Champions on both the men's and women's sides.

Last Time Out
At the Rothenberg Race (10/14), UMass placed third in a field of four teams, completing the competition with 75 points. At the front of the pack for the Amherst based squad was junior Courtney Baldwin, for the first time this fall. Baldwin placed tenth in a field of 53 harriers by crossing the line at 19:13.2.

Colleen Wetherbee and standout freshman Rachel Hilliard followed in 12th and 16th respectively with times of 19:22.8 and 19:39.0. Sarah Barrett and Mary Cole rounded out the UMass scorers in 17th and 20th overall.



Hearty Harriers
Despite many young faces Minutewomen are returning several of last season's strongest harriers to this year's squads.

Courtney Baldwin, Karen Roa, and Mary Cole are three of the Minutewomen's top returnees. Baldwin leads the way coming into 2011 having led UMass in four meets last year, while placing in the team's top five in all seven that she competed in. Behind her are Roa and Cole, who tallied five and two, top five team finishes respectively in 2010.

Also returning are strong upperclassmen, Danielle McNiff and Colleen Wetherbee along with graduate student Lauren Stocker, and sophomores Sarah Barrett, Alexandra Purdue-Smithe, and Katrina Martyn.

Roa has been UMass' top harrier all season long, finishing first on the team in all four races she has competed in. The Jamaica, N.Y. native has also placed in the overall top ten in two competitions, including taking fourth at the Minuteman Invitational (9/17), and tenth at the New England Championships (10/8).

Since returning in race three for the Minutewomen, Baldwin has yet to place below third on the team, including being the top UMass harrier at the Rothenberg Race (10/14). Wetherbee has also been an impressive leg for the team, scoring in every race she has competed in thus far, including taking second on the team behind Baldwin at Brown University on October 14.

Barrett and McNiff have also helped to provide stability for the Minutewomen, combining for six top five team finishes between the sophomore and junior duo respectively. The former has had the better of the scoring performances, tallying four top five team finishes including a second place performance at the New England Championships on October 8.

Fresh Outlook
The Minutewomen offer ten newcomers to the current XC squad, with nine being freshman. Alexandra Purdue-Smithe is the sole the non-first years that is a new addition to the Minutewomen's squad.

The class of 2015 includes Jessica Andre, Robyn Argo, Catherine Ayers, Sarah Burke, Megan Cummings, Rachel Hilliard, Laura Kochenash, Katie Powers, and Hannah White.

Among the newcomers thus far in 2011, there have been eight top five team finishes through four competitions. Leading the way in this category has been Hilliard, who has not only yet to place below fourth on the team in any race, but has also finished second on the team twice including at the Minuteman Invite (9/17) and Paul Short Invitational (9/30).

Cummings, Powers, and White have all added one top five team finish each.

Regional Outlook
As of October 17, the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Northeast Regional Poll ranks Providence as the top team. In-state rivals Boston College, Harvard, and Boston University rank #5, #13, and #14 respectively.

In terms of conference opponents ranking regionally, in the Mid-Atlantic Region, the La Salle Explorers rank seventh, the Duquesne Dukes sit at #10, and the Saint Joseph's Hawks rank #11. Dayton is posted as #10 in the Great Lakes Region, while Xavier slides in at #15.

Charlotte and Richmond round out the regionally ranked conference foes as #13 and #15 in the Southeast Region.

Schedules Nearing The End
The Atlantic 10 Championship Meet is set for this Saturday in Charlotte, N.C., the same site of the 2011 A-10 Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The meet will kickoff at 10:45 a.m. for the women's race.

UMass opened 2011 campaign at the Bryant University Invitational (9/10), where no team scores were kept. Karen Roa led her tea, finishing sixth in a field of 96 harriers while posting a time of 18:17.99.

Following a trip southeast, UMass returned to Amherst for the Minuteman Invite where the team scored 99 points and placed fourth in a field of five teams. The Minutewomen were once again paced by Roa, who finished with a season best time of 17:36.01.

After the meet at home, the Minutewomen traveled to the Paul Short Invitational (9/30) in Bethlehem, Pa. With 952 points, Julie LaFreniere's squad placed 38th in a field that contained the likes of #1 Georgetown University, #3 Providence College, and #5 Villanova.

Championship season commenced with the New England Meet on October 8 with the sole trip of the season to Franklin Park for Julie LaFreniere's squad. The Minutewomen offered perhaps the best team showing of the 2011 campaign thus far, placing 13th in a field of 39 teams. UMass tallied a total of 367 points, as in-state rival Boston College took home gold.

At the Rothenberg Race (10/14), UMass placed third in a field of four teams with 75 points. This was the second race of the season for the Minutewomen in the Ocean State. Courtney Baldwin returned to prior form, bringing in her first top finish on the team this fall.

The final meet of the season comes at the NCAA Regionals in the Amherst of a different state, Amherst, N.Y. on November 12.

Experience At The Helm
There is no lack of leadership for UMass this fall for UMass as Julie LaFreniere returns for her 25th season at the center of the women's cross country program.

LaFreniere has accumulated multiple coaching and team accolades. She was named the Atlantic 10 women's cross country Coach of the Year six times (1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999) and led the Minutewomen to seven A-10 cross country championships.

In 1995, she added her first NCAA qualifier to her list of accomplishments when Rebecca Donaghue qualified for the NCAA Championship, finishing 50th in the national competition. Donaghue qualified again in 1996 under LaFreniere's tutelage. Recently, LaFreniere added another runner to her list of NCAA qualifiers, when Kristin Cisowski competed in the 2000 and 2001 NCAA Cross Country Championship. After graduating from UMass in 1977, LaFreniere held head coaching positions at the high school level for four years. She later returned to UMass to pursue a master's degree in Sport Management. Upon receiving her graduate degree in 1986, LaFreniere was named the Minutewomen's head cross country and track and field coach in 1987.

As a student-athlete, LaFreniere helped lead the UMass women's cross country team to the New England championship and a ninth-place finish at the first AIAW women's national championship. She left her mark on the Minutewoman squad when she set school records in the half-mile and mile, and received MVP awards for both cross country and track and field in 1976 and 1977.

LaFreniere was recently inducted into the Gardner (Mass.) High School Athletic Hall of Fame, and currently resides in Petersham, Mass.

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