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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Conn, Coast Guard women excited about competing in NCAA cross country championships

    In this Oct. 15, 2022, file photo, Conn College coach Ned Bishop speaks with members of the women’s cross country team prior to a meet at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. (Photo courtesy of Mike Orazzi/Clarus Multi Media)
    In this Dec. 9, 2022, file photo, Conn College coach Ned Bishop coaches during an indoor track meet at Wesleyan University in Middletown. (Photo courtesy of Mike Orazzi/Clarus Multi Media)

    New London – Ned Bishop’s office walls are lined with accomplishments and memories from his 39 years as head coach of the Connecticut College women’s cross country program.

    There’s not a lot of free space.

    It’s safe to say that Bishop will find room for one more achievement.

    The Camels are headed to the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships for the first time as a team. They’ll compete in the elite 32-team field that includes the Coast Guard Academy women on Saturday in Newville, Pa. It will be the Bears’ first appearance since 1992.

    Both programs received the good news about receiving an at-large bid on Sunday, a day after the Camels placed third and the Bears sixth in the NCAA Mideast Regionals.

    Last spring, Bishop had a good feeling about his team’s chances of qualifying for nationals this fall. His freshmen class took a big step forward during the outdoor track season and his recruiting efforts produced a strong group.

    His team’s attitude and competitive spirit really made Bishop optimistic.

    “More than anything, it was paying attention to their vision about it,” Bishop said. “It’s a very competitive group. They were not afraid to have high goals and to talk about it. That became evident last spring.

    “So, at that point, I thought there was a possibility.”

    A productive summer of training set up the team for success.

    That’s a credit to his runners who are self-motivated and dedicated to the program.

    “They did probably the best job of summer training on their own of any team I’ve coached in my whole career,” Bishop said. “And I don’t stay in very close touch during the summer intentionally. Part of this is taking responsibility for yourself. And they did that really, really well.

    “So they came back to school ready to go with what we needed to do in training and in a position to stay healthy, too.”

    The result was the Camels enjoyed a highly-successful fall.

    They placed a program-best fourth in the New England Small College Athletic Conference Championships. Sophomore Abigail Fernald took fifth overall for a spot on the All-NESCAC first team.

    They posted their top finish at a regional by taking third at the Mideast Regional Saturday in Westfield, Mass. Their previous best was sixth in 2000 and 2001. Six of their seven runners recorded personal bests, with sophomore Alsacia Timmerman (19th), senior Edin Sisson (23rd), Fernald (24th), senior Lauren Hino (28h) and freshman Abigail Williams (31st) earning All-Region honors.

    As a 1984 Conn College graduate and former runner, Bishop, 61, can really appreciate what qualifying for the national championship meet means. He’s very invested in the program and stays connected with former runners.

    “It means a ton to me,” Bishop said.

    Over the years, Bishop, who also coaches the women’s track program, has had a lot of individual qualifiers, individual national champions and All-Americans. He won a New England Division III team title in outdoor track in 1989.

    But qualifying as a team for nationals has eluded the Camels.

    Not anymore.

    “That was really the one missing piece from my career so far…,” Bishop said. “It’s very rewarding and satisfying to check that off the list.”

    Senior Brendan Mellitt, a member of the men’s program, also will compete in the national championship race. He qualified as an individual for the first time.

    Bears ready to go

    Coast Guard coach Ethan Brown saw the potential in his women’s program last fall when the Bears finished ninth in the regional meet.

    “We were proud of our performance,” Brown said. “I knew everyone was hungry for more. They made great progress over the winter and spring (track) seasons. They really stayed focused over the summer to stay prepared for the fall season.

    “It’s been a long road. We’ve been really focused on this for a long time.”

    The Bears bettered last year’s regional finish last weekend, placing a program-best sixth. Junior Paige Phillips and sophomore Claire Semerod earned All-Region honors after finishing third and fifth, respectively. Other team members include junior Sidney Triepke, junior Sophia White, freshman Mia Mastrogiovanni, sophomore Lauren Mellon, seniors Megan Churm and Christine Carey.

    “We had several personal bests by quite a lot,” Brown said. “Some people made some big jumps in their own personal running to really help us out as a team. It was a big day for us.”

    It’s been a terrific season overall for the Bears, who took second in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Championships behind seventh-ranked MIT in late October.

    Now they’re preparing to compete on the national stage for the first time in 31 years.

    “There were so many great individual runners over those years,” Brown said. “But it really takes a special group to qualify for the national championships like this. For us, it comes from within the group, that internal drive, that motivation. They come out and run hard every single day. But they’ve really been honed in on all the small things. They know they train for two hours a day and really put in a great effort at practice.

    “It’s what they’ve been doing outside of that time to motivate each other, to talk about their training, to talk about how the races went, to build each other up. When things don’t go so hot, they’re there to support each other. It’s just been really great to see that type of team culture happening.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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