SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The three-peat is complete. The Sacred Heart women's cross country team won its third consecutive Northeast Conference Championship on Saturday. For the first time ever six Pioneers earned All-NEC honors, all placing in the top 12, as SHU ran away with the team title, finishing 35 points clear of second place Central Connecticut State with a total of 34. The 34 points is the lowest in program history, surpassing the 43 set just last year, as well as 44 in 2013.
Leading Sacred Heart for the first time this season was Jennifer Hahne, as the junior saved her best race of the season for the biggest stage. The now two-time All-NEC performer crossed second with a personal best time of 18:04.8 for the highest finish of her career, surpassing her four place finish at the Fairfield Invitational earlier this season. Over the past three years, she has improved from 36th to 13th to now second at the Championships.
Right behind her in third was senior Alexandra Kaeslin, who finished her NEC career with her first All-Conference honor. After not competing in the 2012 or 2013 Championships, she finished 22nd in 2014. She crossed less than three seconds behind Hahne and 12.4 second ahead of the fourth place finisher in 18:07.5, 21 seconds better than her previous personal best.
Also earning the first All-NEC accolades of their careers was Molly Barker, Meghan Hutch, and Kate Svensen, as the trio placed 8th, 10th, and 12th, respectively. Amongst those three was senior captain Shannon Hickey, whose 11th place finish secured her third straight All-Conference honor. Hickey is just the third Pioneer woman to do it three times, joining Kim DeLoreto (2007, 2009, and 2010) and Katie Wrinkle (2001-03).
Barker finished in a pack of four who finished less than two seconds apart in 5th through 8th place, as her time of 18:28.2 was just 1.7 seconds away from a top five spot. Seconds later it was Hutch, Hickey, and Svensen crossing back-to-back-to-back with times of 18:28.4, 18:29.8, and 18:31.6, respectively.
Sacred heart will take off next weekend before returning to competition at the NCAA Northeast Regionals, held at Franklin Park in Boston, Mass., November 13 at 11 am. Last year the Pioneers tied their best even team finish with a 16th place performance.
Head Coach Christian Morrison on the Championship
"We lost our top two runners from last year to graduation. Then, we lost Tara Connelly, one of our best returning runners, to a midseason injury. We just persevere through adversity. Molly missed our last race before the NEC's due to illness, and has been battling injuries since last spring. Shannon's been our top runner in every meet this season, and then she got sick in the past week, and wasn't at her best for the race. Still, they battled through. Various others on the team have suffered setbacks this season, but none of it mattered in the end. We were still ready for this race. Top to bottom, so many turned in the best performances of their careers to fill any voids we had. Jen, Alexandra, Molly, Meg, Shannon, Kate – they're all success stories. We do things our own way, and our athletes improve tremendously during their time in the program. Juniors and seniors on our team, who were unheralded recruits, emerge and become all-conference performers. That's how we do it, and that's what happened in this championship. Time and time again, the spirit, determination, commitment, and toughness of this group shows through. …..and by the way, we have fun while we're doing it."
-SHU previously had had 5 All-NEC performers in 2014, and 4 in 2008 and 2013.
- Barker beat her 5K personal best by 14 seconds, and has improved a total of 54 seconds this season. She placed 20th in the NEC's as a freshman, 31st last year, before improving all the way to 8th this year.
- Hutch beat her 5K personal best by 27 seconds, and has improved a total of 45 seconds this season. Over the past three years, she has improved her NEC Championship placement from 47th to 34th, to 10th.
-Svensen beat her 5K personal best by 25 seconds, and has improved a total of 32 seconds this season. She improved her NEC Championship placement from 28th last year to 12th this year.
-Trista Leo (19:05.7) beat her 5K personal best by 16 seconds.