By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
After winning her first race of the season Sept. 12 at the ACU Classic against Division II opponents, Yuliya Stashkiv established her rightful place Saturday among some of the best distance runners in Texas. The freshman placed third in a field of 161 women, the majority from Division I programs, at the Texas A&M Cross Country Invitational in College Station.
Stashkiv was the top runner for the sixth-place Wildcats in the 6,000-meter race with a time of 21:48, followed by senior Justine Nahimana in 20th place (22:48), sophomore Abbie Waters in 36th place (23:34), freshman Crystal Berndt in 69th place (24:07) and senior Jody Pelletier in 112th place (25:20).
Stashkiv was somewhat surprised by how well she did.
“It was OK,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be third. It was a kind of tough race and course-the first mile was easy for me, but after that, there were lots of hills.”
While Stashkiv expressed surprise at her finish, head coach Jon Murray didn’t.
“She’s an outstanding athlete,” Murray said. “I would expect her to be up there at the top and really be fighting to see how well she can do.”
The time gap between Waters and Berndt was over 40 seconds, and 73 seconds between Berndt and Pelletier, a problem that could prove harmful for the team advancing to nationals in November.
“It was the first time that Crystal had been on a 6K, so she was able to see what that was about,” Murray said. “It’s just a matter of gaining some experience, and we’ll get her to get a little closer to our third. After that, it’s just a matter of reducing the time gap between one and five.”
Texas A&M won the team competition with 35 points, followed by TCU (58), Rice (81), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (156) and Lamar (169). ACU was three points behind Lamar with 172 points.
“The team did OK, but we can do better next time,” Stashkiv said.
Despite the time gaps between runners, Murray said he thinks the race was beneficial.
“I think it was a great race experience,” Murray said. “We had a lot of athletes and good competition-I think the girls learned a lot from being able to be in that experience.”
Two Wildcat runners competed in the men’s race as well. Senior Justin Thompson placed 85th in the 8,000-meter race with a time of 27:36, and freshman Seth Patterson was 114th in 28:25.
The men’s and women’s teams will have this weekend off before traveling to Stillwater, Okla., for the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree Oct. 4.
Murray said the itinerary until then is simple.
“Work, work, work,” he said. “We’ve got 10 days here of hard work, so we’re looking forward to it.”