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  Calvin women repeat as national champs
By Jeff Febus

The Calvin women's cross country team could not have picked a better time to run its best race of the season.

In a dominating performance, Calvin claimed its second consecutive national championship with a first place total of 85 points at the NCAA III Championships in Oshkosh, Wis. Calvin's point total was 39 points better than its national championship score of a year ago and 34 points better than second-place Middlebury of Vermont.

Ranked number one in the country heading into the race, the Knights were paced by three All-America performances as senior Amy Mizzone (Wayne, N.J.) was sixth with a time of 17:11; senior Lisa Timmer (Ann Arbor, Mich.) 12th in 17:20 and senior Liz Kuipers (Sarnia, Ont.) 29th in 17:37. The top 35 finishers at nationals are All-Americans. Mizzone's All-America performance was the second of her career and her sixth-place finish was the fourth best in MIAA and the third best in Calvin women's cross country history. Timmer earned All-America accolades in cross country for the third time in her career with her performance while Kuipers received All-America citations for the first time in her career. Calvin has now posted 19 All-America performances in the history of its women's cross country program.

The Calvin women placed five of its runners in the top-50 as senior Sarah Gritter (Wauwatosa, Wis.) was 49th in 17:48 and sophomore Erinn Boot (Kalamazoo, Mich.) 50th in 17:49. Junior Rashel Bayes (Sparta, Mich.) was Calvin's sixth runner with a time of 18:18 while sophomore Lindsay Carrier (Grand Rapids) rounded out Calvin's finishers at seventh in 18:38.

"Our team ran beyond my expectations today. They had a phenomenal performance," said Calvin women's cross country coach Nancy Meyer who was named National Coach of the Year for the second consecutive year. "I can't say enough about the leadership of our seniors. They had been there before and knew what they needed to do to prepare for a national race and I think that experience paid off."

Ranked number one in the country for the first six weeks of the season, Calvin began its journey toward its second national title with a first place finish at the Wisconsin-Parkside Invitational, placing first with 83 points with Mizzone leading the charge with a second place time of 18:08.

A week later at the MIAA jamboree held at Adrian's Heritage Park, Calvin dominated with a first place score of 20 points as the Knights took seven of the top-eight spots despite a team-wide bout with the flu. Boot led the Calvin pack in second place while Mizzone was third, Timmer fourth; Kuipers fifth; Bayes sixth; Carrier seventh and DeKorte eighth.

The following Friday, Calvin came through with a strong performance at the prestigious Notre Dame Invitational, placing seventh with a score of 259 points in a field of Division I programs, finishing ahead of in-state Division I rivals Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan. Mizzone was Calvin's top individual finisher, placing 29th with a time of 18:14.

Eight days later at the pre-national invitational hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the top-ranked Knights would receive a valuable wake-up call as fourth-ranked St. Olaf (Minn.) edged the Knights for first place with a score of 88 points.

"It was definitely an upset but we knew beforehand that St. Olaf was a very good team and they deserved to win this afternoon," said Meyer after the race. "We will probably lose our number-one ranking but hopefully that will get the monkey off of our back and put the pressure on someone else. I think today's race served as a bit of a wake-up call that we have work to do and that will help keep us focused through the remainder of the season. We weren't hitting on all of our cylinders this afternoon but I'm not disappointed with our performance because we had some very encouraging races."

Calvin did indeed lose its number-one ranking in the following poll but with two weeks off, the second-ranked Knights refocused and recharged. On October 23, the Knights got back on track with a first-place score of 19 points at the Olivet Nazarene Invitational, placing three runners in the top 10 led by Mizzone who took fourth in 18:14.

The following Saturday at the MIAA Championships hosted by Kalamazoo at the Pine View Golf Course in Schoolcraft, Calvin fought off freakishly warm temperatures to claim its 12th consecutive league crown with another dominating score of 18 points. Calvin again placed seven runners in the top eight with Mizzone winning the race in 18:15 and Timmer following in second with a time of 18:26. Other Calvin runners in the top 10 included Boot in fourth; Kuipers in fifth; Carrier in sixth; Bayes in seventh and Gritter in eighth.

Mizzone was joined on the All-MIAA first team by Bayes, Boot, Carrier, Kuipers and Timmer while sophomore Kris Lumkes (Elkhorn, Wis.) earned a spot on the All-MIAA second team. In earning All-MIAA first team honors, Timmer became just the seventh runner in MIAA women's cross country history to earn All-MIAA first team accolades four consecutive years.

Two weeks later at the Great Lakes Regional hosted by Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, Calvin proved that it would be the team to beat at the NCAA III Championships the following week as the Knights blew through the field with a first place score of 31 points, 103 points ahead of nationally-ranked Baldwin-Wallace. Calvin placed all seven of its runners in the top 17 with Mizzone winning the race in a course-record time of 17:42. Timmer was next in fourth with a time of 18:17 while helping pace Kuipers to a fifth place time of 18:19. Boot also cracked the top 10 with a ninth place finish of 18:35 while Bayes was 12th (18:38); Gritter 14th (18:46) and Carrier 17th (18:53). All seven Calvin runners earned spots on the Great Lakes All-Region team while Meyer was named Great Lakes Regional coach of the Year for the sixth time in the last seven years. In addition, Calvin moved back into the favorite's role in the final national poll of the year, moving past Middlebury and St. Olaf back into the number-one spot.

The final poll would prove to be prophetic as the Knights dominated the field the following week in Oshkosh to claim its second consecutive national crown despite the rugged competition. "Our runners were physically and mentally prepared for stiffer competition this year," said Meyer afterward. "The race was taken out very fast and the fact that our runners were prepared to step it up another notch was a key to our performance."

Another key to Calvin's performance all year was spiritual emphasis, said Kuipers. "Our spiritual focus was such a huge part of our season," she said. "We focused completely on God and having him as the captain of our team. He led us to victory and we give all the glory to him."

For Timmer, closing out her collegiate cross country career with a national championship was a dream come true after struggling through mononucleosis during the track and field season last spring. "It's been a long hard journey but it's also a dream come true," said Timmer. "This season has been amazing not only for myself but for the entire team. To go out this way as seniors is incredible."

A fifth-year senior, Mizzone has also struggled through injuries during her collegiate career including a stress fracture during her junior season that caused her to miss the entire 1997 cross country season. Her injury would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. "It was so disappointing to sit out the season with a stress fracture," said Mizzone. "When I think back on it now I am so thankful because I got to come back this year and be a part of this team."

Jeff Febus is Calvin's sports information director.

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