November 19, 2009

Women’s Cross Country In Pursuit of National Title

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - MIT student-athletes have always been among the best and brightest competitors in collegiate athletics, dating back to the days of Henry Steinbrenner '27, who collected the Institute's first-ever National Championship in track and field during his senior year. Since then, MIT has sponsored 32 individual national champions, seen 638 student-athletes garner All-America honors and produced 156 Academic All-America's, the all-time leader in Division III. Despite these accomplishments, no Institute team has ever won an NCAA National Championship. All of Tech's previous 22 national titles have been awarded by the sport's governing body, not the NCAA. The MIT women's cross country team will attempt to change that at the NCAA Division III National Championship this Saturday.

The Cardinal and Gray enter the meet as the No. 3 ranked team in the country, having recently captured a share of the NCAA New England Regional Championship title, along with defending national champion, Middlebury College. Hoping to improve upon a 10th-place finish at last year's NCAA Championship, the Engineers will be led by a pair of accomplished seniors, Jacqui Wentz and Maria Monks, who will close out their illustrious collegiate careers at Saturday's championship meet.

Wentz has been MIT's top runner over the past two seasons, despite battling through adversity caused by a painful foot injury. The senior co-captain is a two-time New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) All-Conference and All-New England performer. She earned NEWMAC Runner of the Year honors as a junior and was recently named the New England Athlete of the Year, as the winner of the NCAA Regional qualifier. All of this comes despite suffering from plantar fasciitis, a chronic affliction described as "an irritation and swelling of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot."

Head coach, Halston Taylor, who has been at MIT for 27 years, remains impressed by Wentz's resilience and dedication. "Jacqui has methodically built herself, both physically and mentally, into a national-level competitor," Taylor noted. "Her fortitude and desire to do her best is exemplified by her incredible New England regional victory despite her very painful plantar fasciitis. Jacqui is ready to lead her team at the NCAA Division III Championship."

Wentz has high hopes for the final performance of her intercollegiate career. Of the four meets in which she has raced as a senior, she has won twice, including at the Regional Championship, and been bested by another Division III competitor on only one occasion.  

The lone Division III runner that beat Wentz to the finish in 2009 was her own teammate, Monks, who stripped the NEWMAC title from the defending champion back in October. A top performer in her own right on the cross country trails, Monks' accomplishments in the classroom are perhaps even more remarkable. Pursuing a degree in mathematics, she carries a perfect grade point average of 5.0 into her senior year, which at MIT is certainly no small feat. She is also a finalist for the NCAA's Elite 88 Award. This program, which was recently introduced, will recognize the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade point average competing at the finals site at each of the 88 NCAA Championships.

"Maria has fought off a career of injuries to finally put together an injury-free season, allowing her the opportunity to race to her potential," said Taylor. "Despite a very rigorous academic schedule, even by MIT standards, Maria plans on ending her collegiate competitive career with her best effort ever."

Wentz, Monks and the rest of the squad hope to continue a streak of near-perfection during the 2009 campaign. The Engineers have finished first as a team in five of their eight meets this season, including the program's third-straight conference crown and first-ever Regional title. They will find out if that elusive National Championship can be captured this Saturday, November 21. The 2009 NCAA Division III Championship meet, hosted by Baldwin-Wallace College, will be held at the Highland Park Golf Course in Highland Hills, Ohio, with the women's race beginning at 11:00 a.m. For complete meet information, click here.