Ritz races to nationals

Fourth-place finish earns runner invitation to NCAA competition in South Carolina. runner invitation to NCAA competition in South Carolina.

Stacey Ritz ran her best race of the season on Saturday. Because of that, she gets to run in one more.

Ritz led the women's cross country team to a sixth-place finish at the Great Lakes Regional in Ypsilanti, Mich., one place behind the coveted fifth-place cutoff for automatically qualifying as a team for the national championships. Still, Ritz's individual fourth-place finish (20:49) earned her a spot in the NCAA Championships Nov. 19 in Greenville, S.C.

"She (Ritz) ran a great race," coach Sue Parks said. "She overcame an injury in the middle of the season, gained some confidence in the last few meets and probably had her best race of the season."

The Cardinals had a solid team performance, also placing junior Katie Nowak in ninth-place (21:17). Nowak also has a chance to be invited to the NCAA meet, although Parks said it was unlikely.

The Cardinal scorers were rounded out by three freshmen -- Jill Scully (38th), Aubrey Gaffer (60th) and Sarah Huddleston (72nd). Parks was particularly pleased with Gaffer's effort.

"Aubrey really had a breakthrough race," Parks said. "It's exciting because it shows what the team will be like in the future."

Perhaps the most impressive facet of the team's performance is that all of the Cardinals' top-five runners return to the team next season.

"We had a really solid season, that probably exceeded our expectations considering how young we are," Parks said. "We probably couldn't have gotten the points we needed to qualify as a team this season, but it was great experience for our young kids, and we're knocking on the door for qualifying in the future."


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