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GRAND RAPIDS (11/3) The chill wasn't just in the air at Riverside Park, the morning of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference Women's Cross Country Championship. The Cornerstone Univeristy women's team worked to shake off the nerves as well as the memories from one year ago.
"Last season we had a shot to win here and we flat out blew it," said junior co-captain, Jill Louisignau. The 2012 season has been dedicated to not repeating that mistake and the women came into the WHAC meet ranked ninth in the NAIA and favored to take the team title. To do that they would need to beat the 2010 and 2011 conference champions and cross town rival, Aquinas. The Golden Eagles handled the Saints easily two weeks ago on the same course, but were taking nothing for granted. "That clearly wasn't their best race," said CU coach, Rod Wortley. "They always show up ready to do well at the WHAC meet and we knew we'd have to bring our best."
Cornerstone ran nearly identical times to their performance at the Great Lakes Challenge on October 20. Aquinas, on the other hand, raced much better.
For the first two miles, the top four from both teams battled at the front of the pack. Other than Bianca Kubicki of Madonna, the 2011 WHAC individual titlist, no other teams had a runner in the top ten. With 1200 meters remaining, Rachael Steil of Aquinas pulled clear and was extending her lead. CU's Jill Louisignau and Julie Oosterhouse were battling Kubicki and Aquinas senior, Alina Dhaseleer. Two Aquinas freshman filled the gap between them and Cornerstone's three through five pack of Julia Contreras, Audrey Tremaine and CallyAnne Wyma.
"We had things pretty well wrapped up at the back," said Wortley, "the question was what was going to happen at the front." With 600 meters to go, Oosterhouse took off in pursuit of Steil. "There was a point where I wan't sure what was going to happen or if we could do it," said the sophomore from Byron Center. "That last 600 I knew I had to go for it. That could be the spot we needed and I wasn't going let it get away." With 300 meter to go, Oosterhouse drew even then passed Steil, opening an 11 second gap and winning in 18:15. Kubicki and Dhaseleer slipped past Louisignau, who finished fifth in 18:38. Tremaine, Contreras and Wyma swept eighth through tenth in 18:58, 18:59 and 19:00, giving CU 33 points.
"At that moment, it looked like we won, but then we started adding up Aquinas' score and suddenly, it was too close to call," said Wortley. Fifteen long minutes later it was official: Cornerstone 33, Aquinas 34, giving the Golden Eagles their first Conference Championship and an automatic bid to the NAIA National Championships in Vancouver, WA on November 17.
Oosterhouse was named WHAC Runner of the Year and Louisignau earned All-Conference honors. Tremaine, Contreras and Wyma made second team All-WHAC. Julia also earned Academic All-Conference and the team's Champions of Character award.