November 19, 2011
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The Cougars recorded 82 team points and had all five scoring runners capture All-America accolades. They were paced by senior Suzanne Cornwell and junior Kelly Thompson, who took fifth and sixth place, respectively. Cornwell crossed the 5K finish line in 17:48 and Thompson was four seconds back with a time of 17:52. Sophomore Chelsey Cortez’s 18:15 earned her an 18th-place finish, followed by three-time honoree Caitlin Villarrell in 25th (18:26) and two-time All-American Carol Schryver in 28th (18:34).
“I am feeling really overwhelmed,” Cal State San Marcos head cross country coach Steve Scott said. “The best things that could have happened, happened. I told them to run relaxed. We don’t have the pressure of being No. 1, but we have performed here two years in-a-row. That gives you confidence and lets the girls know that they will have what they need on the day. I couldn’t be happier. I am happy for the team. For the first time in many years, everybody here is happy and proud of their performance. I couldn’t be happier.”
The Cougars become the third program in the event’s 32-year history to win back-to-back-to-back titles. Former NAIA member Puget Sound (Wash.) won four-consecutive national championships from 1992-95 and former NAIA member Simon Fraser (B.C.) won from 1996-98 and then again from 2003-07. The Cougars’ trio of titles is tied for third all-time with former NAIA member Adams State (Colo.) and ranks behind Simon Fraser (10) and Puget Sound (4).
“You’re now entering into the realm of the Adams States and Simon Frasers, the teams that are legendary,” Scott said. “The amount of competition on the women’s side is so very competitive. For the girls to rise up for three-consecutive years and on the day is truly amazing.”
With 91 points, along with the runner-up and fourth-place finisher, Azusa Pacific (Calif.) took second-place honors for its best finish since winning it all in 2008. Senior Lauren Jimison became a three-time All-American with a 17:24 runner-up performance. Junior Poppy Lawman’s time of 17:48 earned her a fourth-place finish for her second All-America award. Two other Azusa Pacific runners placed among the top 30.
British Columbia was third with 171 points and one All-American, while Northwest Christian (Ore.) was fourth with 172 points and two honorees. Friends (Kan.) rounded out the top-five teams with 192 points and a pair of All-Americans.
Birru finished her career at Grand View on top and became the first Viking to win an individual women's championship with a 5K clocking of 17:15.
“This is part of a dream come true,” Birru said. “It’s awesome. When you’re about a team rather than yourself, everything else just falls into place. It’s really important for me to do well out here, but it’s my interactions with others is a big part. I’ve made so many friends here the past four years and coming back and doing this with them and in front of them is a big part for me. I have so much respect for these girls and they are good people. I’ve been blessed to be a part of this sport.”
Hailing from Des Moines, Iowa, Birru earned her fourth All-America nod with previous finishes of third, eighth and 18th.
“I owe this to all of my Grand View teammates, the Grand View community, my coaches and everybody that has helped me along the way because I know I couldn’t get here by myself,” she said. “I feel great; it really hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s amazing. All of the hard work I’ve done over the past four years and with God’s help. The biggest part for me is the friends that I have made. Being in the NAIA is always going to be a big part of my life.”
Eight teams were represented among the top-10 placewinners, with Cal State San Marcos and Azusa Pacific each boasting a pair.
It was the third-consecutive year that the NAIA Women’s Cross Country National Championships were held at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. It was hosted by the Cascade Collegiate Conference and Concordia University-Portland (Ore.).