As AU and Princeton's last runners crossed the line in Saturday's NCAA Mideast Regional, the team race for second place - and a spot in the NCAA Championships - was too close to call.
Princeton's top two runners finished fifth and sixth, both ahead of eighth-place AU sophomore Steve Hallinan on the course in Bethlehem, Pa. But AU's fourth and fifth finishers, senior Pat Burford and sophomore Awit Yohannes, finished 22nd and 29th, ahead of Princeton's fourth and fifth.
So, the Eagles went on their cool-down run wondering if they had been good enough, as coaches and self-proclaimed statisticians could only guess at the final results of the 195-runner stampede. The team returned to good news - they had held off the Tigers by four places, 93-97 in the low score wins format. Everyone exhaled. But they didn't rejoice.
"Pretty much, I don't think anybody is too pumped about the way it went," Burford said. "We're still hungry."
Georgetown senior and individual winner Fleet Hower finished the 10-kilometer course in 30:03.8, leading the Hoyas to a team title with a mere 45 places. But for AU, the drama was about 75 seconds behind that, where Yohannes likely made the difference for the Eagles.
In the final 600 meters, it was Yohannes charging past Princeton's Ben Stern (30th) and Frank Tinney (33rd), Princeton's final two scored runners. The duo finished a combined five places behind Yohannes, as the Eagles won by four places.
"Their fifth guy made a real strong move in the final half mile," said senior Phil Turner, AU's seventh runner, (40th overall). "But Awit had his head up at the last moment.... He just emphasized how much it meant for our team to get there."
Hallinan finished in 30:25.1, followed 30 seconds behind by sophomore Brendan Fennell in 16th. Freshman Kevin Tschirhart finished in 30:58.0 for 18th place, with Buford 11 seconds behind that. Yohannes finished in 31:16.8, junior Conor Lanz came home in 31:17.6 for 32nd place, and Turner broke the line in 31:34.3.
Last season, AU qualified for the national meet in similar fashion, finishing behind Georgetown in Lewisburg, Pa., before going on to a 20th-place finish nationally. This year's Eagles are cautious about setting specific goals for the championship in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 21. But they say there is room for improvement from this.
"We don't think we've had our best race yet," Turner said. "That's the exciting thing."
Added Burford, "I don't think everybody put their best foot forward today. We want to go out there and show people we are better than this."
Carlstrom takes individual 2nd: AU senior Keira Carlstrom finished second individually in the women's regional race Saturday, finishing in 20:04.1, five seconds behind winner, Princeton's Cack Ferrell.
With the result, Carlstrom will return as an individual competitor to the NCAA championship meet for a third time. She finished 16th at the meet in 2003, and 17th in 2004, the top two finishes in AU women's cross country history.