The Gloucester County College Cross Country teams had a very exciting weekend at the NJCAA Division III National Championships hosted by SUNY Delhi in Delhi, NY. The teams entered the national championships after sweeping the Northeast District Championships and were ranked #1 and #2 in the nation. The goal all season was to be the top cross country program in the nation, and the teams worked hard to achieve that goal. Throughout the season both teams logged 1000's of miles and conquered numerous hills in preparation for the challenging course at Delhi. The teams also worked on various race techniques and mental strategies to give them all the confidence needed to achieve their goals. When race day finally arrived, conditions at the championships started out cold and damp, but as the women lined up for the first race of the day, the sun came out and the weather was just about perfect for cross country.
The women's 5k championship race was first up on the agenda. The Roadrunners had an amazingly loud prerace cheer oozing with confidence as the rest of the teams eyed them up as a target due to their national #1 ranking. "When the gun went off, it was very nerve wracking knowing that due to the course layout we would not get a chance to see the ladies until the race was almost halfway done. When the lead pack finally emerged, it was an amazing sight with 3 GCC yellow jerseys cresting a hill and leading the race!" recalled Head Coach Ryan Hughes.
The lead pack at the 1.5 mile mark included Rejeena Whittington, Nieemah Powers and Catherine Dougherty running strong. Closely behind in the second pack chasing the leaders were Lyndsey Fraser and Aimee Abbott. Rounding out the Roadrunner flock were Emily Vendetta and Isabelle Clermeus holding the group of GCC runners together as the most tightly packed team in the competition. These groups held together for the entire race and so did GCC's dominance with the fastest group of seven runners in the nation. The finish was extremely exciting for the Roadrunners. The team was lead all season by the only sophomore on the team, Rejeena Whittington. Nationals was no different, she put herself into an excellent striking position and carried two of her teammates with her. "Rejeena exemplifies everything about an athlete that a coach hopes to work with. She has unmatched dedication, desire and devotion to her teammates." Rejeena had a fantastic kick to the finish to secure an individual 3rd place finish and earn All-American honors. This was her second time earning All-American for Rejeena, as she also received it for the 10,000m in track last spring.
Working hand and hand the entire race were Nieemah Powers and Catherine Dougherty finishing in 6th and 7th respectively and also earning All-American honors. "Nieemah is physically the strongest runner on the team, despite being the shortest member. This season she has grown into an extraordinary runner, improving by leaps and bounds as she became confident in her abilities," said Hughes. "Catherine joined the team late in the season, and shocked us all right from the start with her talent. She has amazing speed and a fierce competitive edge."
The next pack of Roadrunners battled back and forth throughout the race and worked together to gobble up the competition. With a late surge in her most impressive race of the season, Aimee Abbott placed 23rd followed by Lyndsey Fraser in 27th to round out scoring for GCC. "Aimee was another late addition to the team and she infused us all with tons of energy and positive thoughts with her never ending exuberance," commented Hughes. "Lyndsey is the hardest working member of the team. She ran more miles than any other member of the team over the summer and was always pushing herself and the team to go further and further in practice."
The final members of the Roadrunner flock were Emily Vendetta and Isabelle Clermeus placing 33rd and 43rd respectively. Their excellent finishes put GCC's top 7 runners ahead of all but one other teams top 5 runners. "Emily has done great things this season while juggling more responsibilities than most of the team. She spends hours after practice with her other passion, dance, and she has to work out solo often due to babysitting responsibilities." "Isabelle joined the team with some reluctance since she had never run cross country before. She showed that with hard work and dedication, anything can be possible, as she went from distance hating sprinter to national champion cross country team member."
As the finish of the race unfolded, with GCC's distinctive yellow jerseys dominating the early runners crossing the finish line, it became very apparent that the team title was heading to GCC. The Roadrunners were elated as official word came of their victory by 22 pts over 2ndplace Mohawk Valley CC. This marks the 2nd time that the GCC women have won a national cross country title. Both victories were under the direction of Coach Ryan Hughes, with the last one being in 2006. An interesting side note to that story is that one of the members of the 2006 national championship team, Angela Dunn, is serving as a first year assistant coach for GCC. "Her experience and talents have helped the team in too many ways to count this season. The women on the team formed a special bond with Angela and were able to honor her contributions with another national title," said Hughes. Assistant Coach Angela Dunn says, "I'm proud of the team. They worked hard all season and it definitely paid off!"
To add to the team trophy hardware, the GCC Cross Country program was awarded the 'Pepsi Challenge Cup' for being the best overall cross country program in NJCAA Division III. Also GCC Head Coach Ryan Hughes was named NJCAA National Women's Coach of the Year. This is the 3rd time he has earned the award, he was also awarded the honor in 2006 for the women and in 2010 for the men.
Full results from NJCAA.org
GCC Women's Cross Country Wins National Title - from NJ.com
GCC National Champions - from NJCAA.org