Reaching New Heights

  • November 21, 2008 02:46 PM
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By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
November 21, 2008

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University cross country runner Kaylyn Christopher has been one of several key contributors to WVU’s successful 2008 season.

A Kingwood, W.Va., resident, Christopher was recently named to the NCAA Mid-Atlantic All-Region Team after her 17th-place time of 22:14 helped the Mountaineers garner 51 team points, typing Princeton for first place at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships.

  Kaylyn Chrsitopher is one of six runners to make the NCAA Mid-Atlantic All-Regional team.
Submitted photo

Christopher and teammates face their most daunting task of the season when they head to Terre Haute, Ind., to compete in the NCAA Championships on Monday, Nov. 24. After making school history with a ninth-place finish in last season’s championships, Christopher has no problem raising the bar for this year’s squad.

“We’ve definitely talked about it, especially after coming off a good win at regionals,” Christopher said of her team’s chances of finishing higher. “We’re shooting for a place in the top four so we can get a place on the podium at Nationals.”

Although several teams would be happy with a second-place finish at the Big East Championships, a WVU squad loaded with returning talent was not satisfied with placing behind league rival Villanova back on Oct. 31. The Mountaineers finished with 48 points and were led by first, third and fourth-places finishes from Marie-Louise Asselin, Clara Grandt and Keri Bland, respectively.

“Coming out of the Big East Championships I know we were all disappointed, but we went to regionals with a good attitude and it went well, and we were pleased with our results,” Christopher said.

Now the Mountaineers, currently No. 5 in the final U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Associations (USTFCCCA) Division I Women’s National Poll, are confident and prepared to make school history. Heading into the notoriously cold Midwest for cross country’s greatest prize is a stark contrast from running in hot temperatures during late August, but the Mountaineers understand what they must endure in order to become national champions.

However, Christopher believes it makes no difference whether her squad competes arduously under the warm sunshine or in freezing temperatures. She has bonded with her teammates throughout the year by training and running in all different elements, and is ready for whatever Terre Haute, Ind., brings her.

“I don’t know if there is anything that we do different,” Christopher said. “We train in the cold and we run in the cold everyday, so it’s just something that we get our body acclimated to. We have to expect it, and once you go into a race and you’re at the starting line and that gun goes off, you don’t feel a thing.”

Christopher has enjoyed a superb sophomore season as a member of the Old Gold and Blue. At the WVU Invitational on Sept. 16, she set a personal best and course best time of 15:17 at WVU Agronomy Farm.

On Oct. 17, she was one of four Mountaineers to finish in the Top 10 at the Penn State Invitational, finishing ninth with a time of 20:59 to help WVU claim first place with 40 points. She followed with another superb run at the Big East Championships, ending 18th in 21:09.

But the highly touted in-state runner was not a part of last year’s seven-member team that competed so well at the NCAA Championships. Christopher will get a chance to embark on a new experience this Monday, feeling assured that her appearance on cross country’s greatest stage will be awe-inspiring but won’t completely faze her.

“There definitely will be some nerves,” Christopher admitted. “I didn’t get a chance to compete at NCAAs last year, but the initial shock might be over with because last year was a trying experience. I think I underestimated what it was going to be like and how many runners there were and the level of competition. Now that I’ve been through it once I think I’m more prepared, and most of the team can say that too.”

A major factor in Christopher’s enjoyment has been the camaraderie she has built with her teammates. She looks up to the Big Three of Asselin, Bland and Grandt, and believes that training and competing with them will help her accomplish similar goals.

“Having girls that you look up to on the team has been great,” Christopher added. “Seeing Marie-Louise (Asselin), Keri (Bland) and Clara (Grandt) running so well and the fact that they are accomplished runners, it gives us four, five, six and seven runners something to shoot for. We look at them and we want to be able to close the gap and be right up there with them and make the team the very best it could be.”

With WVU reaching its peak as a program, the 2008 squad is ready to dent the record books and stake its claim as one of the nation’s elite teams. With back-to-back appearances at nationals, the Mountaineers are already making others feel the program’s recent success.

“It shows how far we’ve really come and how great of a coach Sean (Cleary) is and how hard we’re willing to work for that dream that we all want very badly,” Christopher said of the program’s latest accomplishment. “Kind of like last year when we got to nationals, once you do it once you get that desire to do it again and again and keep improving your performances.”

And like last season’s team, WVU enters the NCAA Championships with a laundry list of season-long accomplishments. But according to Christopher, many of this year’s returnees are another year older and another year stronger, giving them a better shot to break last year’s benchmark.

“As a whole I feel like we’re all more fit, a lot stronger and a lot more confident going into everything,” Christopher stated. “We know how good our training has been and we don’t have any reasons to doubt ourselves. I think shooting for a spot on the podium is 100 percent realistic.”

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