Dec. 22, 2003
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Maryland women's cross country head coach Trent Sanderson can't help but wonder what might have been.
Sophomore Katie Purcell led the Terps last season, pacing the young squad in seven meets during the 2002 season. Her efforts, combined with top recruits Meghan Braffet and Justine Kovacs, were expected to propel the Terps into the spotlight in 2003. After the first two meets of the 2003 season, both first-place team finishes, neither of the three runners were seen in the lineups.
Purcell and Braffet were diagnosed with mononucleosis in mid-September, joining sophomore Shari Gorga on the sidelines, who had been sidelined with the illness during preseason training. Kovacs suffered a stress fracture in her leg during her senior outdoor track season at Stamford High School in Connecticut and was unable to recover by the start of the 2003 season.
With the majority of the roster intact, the Terps took first place at the Charlotte Cross Country Relays on Aug. 30 in Charlotte, N.C., with three pairs finishing in the top 10. Kim Smith and Allison Carney placed third, followed by the ailing Purcell and sophomore Cori Koch in eighth place and sophomore Beccca Funk and junior Courtney Fiorovanti in ninth.
The squad's winning ways continued two weeks later with another team win at the Mount Invitational in Emmitsburg, Md., on Sept. 13. Smith, Funk and walk-on freshman Laurel Jefferson placed first, second and third, respectively to guide the Terps.
Following the Mount Invitational, illness ensued. Despite the instability in the roster, the Terrapin squad was able to persevere and draw on the talents of sophomores Carney and Danielle Siebert and the lone senior, Smith, to produce one of the strongest seasons in recent history.
"Kim, Allison and Danielle really carried the team on their backs this season," Sanderson said. "They all stepped it up exponentially and really came through for us."
The group shone at the Paul Short Invitational on Oct. 4, guiding the Terps to a ninth-place finish in a field of 32 of the nation's top teams. Siebert was the first across the finish line for the Terps, taking 30th place with a time of 21:55.9. Five of the six Maryland runners finished in the top 100 in the field of 224 runners. Smith secured 37th place (22:06.3), followed by Jefferson in 46th (22:17.1), Koch, who finished 83rd (22:46.7) and junior Courtney Fiorovanti in 94th place and a time of 22:56.0.
While half of the team competed at the Paul Short Invitational, the Terp reserve squad competed in the Maryland State Championships at Salisbury University. The squad placed fifth out of seven of the state's toughest teams. Five of the eight runners finished in the top 50, led by sophomore Melissa Trusty in 28th place, Danielle Bailey (31) and freshman Reisey Berger in 36th.
One week later, the Terps hosted their sole home meet of the season, the Maryland Invitational on Oct. 11, taking second place behind American. Carney finished second overall with a time of 17:56.2, 19 seconds behind American's Keira Caristrom. The sophomore trailblazer earned ACC Performer of the Week honors for the performance. Smith finished fifth overall for the team (17:56.2), followed by Funk in seventh in 18:42.1. Also scoring for Maryland were Fiorovanti (12th at 19:07.3), Koch (14th at 19:13.6) and sophomore Amie Shomette (28th at 20:06.9).
The following week, the Terps headed to Waterloo, Iowa, for the NCAA Pre-National competition - the biggest Division I cross country event in the nation. Carney finished at No. 34 in the field of 222 runners in the Gold Race to guide the Terps to a 29th-place finish with a time of 21:57.
The Carney-Siebert-Smith trio struck again at the ACC Championships on Nov. 1, leading the Terps to a seventh-place finish, tying their best finish ever in the conference competition. Carney finished in 31st place with a time of 21:45.0, followed by Siebert in at No. 35 with a time of 21:58.2 and Smith with a time of 22:36.6 to finish 49th. The event cemented the trio as leaders of the Terp squad.
"Danielle ran the best race of her career today," Sanderson said following the ACCs. "She stepped it up, finishing under 22 minutes for the second time in her career in a 6K race."
The NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships on Nov. 15 marked the best performance of Carney's career, and the return of Purcell after her battle with mononucleosis. Carney placed 14th with a career-best time of 21:10 in a 6K competition. Siebert was second in line for the Terps again, finishing 39th with a time of 21:52. Jefferson also put in a noteworthy performance, finishing 59th at 22:32. Purcell placed 98th with a time of 23:07 in her first meet in two months.
The Terps finished their 2003 campaign on a strong note. Six out of seven runners placed in the top two-thirds of the field to give the Terp women a third-place finish out of eight highly competitive teams at the ECAC Championships on Nov. 22. Carney placed second at the 95th annual competition, beating her time from last year's competition by nearly 30 seconds (18:07). Siebert came in at No. 12 with a time of 18:33. Funk put in one of the best performances of her career, finishing in 18:57 and in 23rd place.
It's undeniable that 2003 season was a positive one. Individual and team finishes were improved upon, illustrating the maturation of squad. The Terps were able to overcome the loss of potentially three of the strongest runners and go above and beyond all expectations. Despite the marked the improvement, Sanderson says the squad still has a way to go.
"We want to develop our program to the point that every runner from walk-on through scholarship athletes can be a contender on any given day," Sanderson said. "We don't want to have to depend on the same two to three runners all the time, in every meet."
Though a crucial part of the Terps' cross country program, Smith is the lone senior. Sanderson will welcome back a stronger, healthier group next season that, mixed with a fresh batch of recruits, will be expected to produce big things.