November 23, 2013

Butler Places Third At NCAA National Meet

"Third time is the charm for Abbey D'Agostino." "Providence defeats Arizona." "Adams State men win with just 54 points."

It would appear that the headlines seem to be forgetting something.

The Butler women's cross country team, barely cracking the rankings going into the season and then ranked twelfth heading into Saturday's NCAA Division I National Championship, finished an astonishing third at the meet in Terre Haute.

"Third!"

"In what?"

"Cross country!"

"In what though?"

"At the national meet!"

"In cross country?"

Third. Out of every Division I cross country program in the entire United States. And still, the Butler cross country team being "good" is news to most.

Sound familiar? The story here is a lot like what happened just a few short years ago, during the era of the beloved basketball coach Brad Stevens. 

"Every team creates their own narrative and their own story," head cross country coach Matt Roe said. "Every program has their own path." 

Roe said the flip side of that is that the programs are similar in that many of the athletes, while good fits for Butler, came in undervalued, with high ceilings but a need for more time to develop. Also similarly, Butler was again the underdog going into today's race. Butler has now made the Final Four for the third time in five years - but instead of on a court, these Bulldogs were on a 6k cross country course.

"I think about elite programs," head coach Matt Roe said, "and they earn it every day. Certainly if we continue on the path we're on, more people will recognize what type of program we have, but we have to earn it every day. The good news is we have people who want that, who are excited about getter better and being part of a team and competing for their team."

The women placed third at today's national meet - the third highest finish by any team in school history, behind only the two national runner-up finishes by the men's basketball team 2010 and 2011 - following runner-up honors at the Great Lakes Regional last Friday. It was the first automatic bid to advance to nationals in school history and a major jump from the previous team best of 24th at nationals in 2005.

"I thought we ran really well (today)," Roe said, "but I don't think we outdid ourselves. The process of the season is you're trying to get more ready, as it were - to get better every week. The moment wasn't too big for them and they were successful."

Led by junior and now All-American Mara Olson, who finished in 26th place with a time of 20:37.7, Butler scored 200 points in the elite meet including 31 of the nation's best teams. The Bulldogs finished behind national runner-up Arizona by just three points. Big East rivals Providence and Georgetown finished first and fifth, respectively. Olson was the third finisher overall from the Big East conference.

"[Mara] has been knocking on the door of a great race all year," Roe said. "You can point to every single race this year and say it was a good or great race. She put it together today."

2013 All-American and senior Katie Clark finished second for the Bulldogs, clocking 20:46.9 for 41st place, just outside of the 40-place All-America bracket. Junior Olivia Pratt was 65th in a time of 21:03.6, while senior Kirsty Legg crossed the line 21:07.8 for 73rd. Freshman Lauren Wood rounded out the scorers in a time of 21:15.5, good for 88th place.

Junior and individual qualifier Tom Curr, who Roe said ran "outstanding... [despite getting] spiked on the start line and [cutting] his foot open," clocked 30:46.4 for 41st place. Like Clark, Curr missed All-America honors by just one spot. Curr was off by a mere second and Clark was off by nine-tenths of a second.

"To have one program have a male and a female finish 41st, one spot off All-American, is so bittersweet for me," Roe said. "You can't fault their races, but a fraction of a second... It's tough. And it's really sticking with me, not because I was disappointed, but quite the contrary. They gave All-American efforts and I would've loved to see them get that recognition."

The Bulldogs may have been left out of a few headlines and some of the awards tables this time around, but one thing is for sure: you can never count Butler out.

Bethany Werge (bwerge@butler.edu)