December 22, 2014

Elyria
Mostly clear
40°F
test

College cross country: Avon Lake’s Matt Link, Amherst’s Devan Molnar ready for nationals

Lorain County runners Matt Link of Avon Lake and Devan Molnar of Amherst get to test their wheels at Saturday’s NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships in Spokane, Wash., at the Plantes Ferry Athletic Complex.

Avon Lake High product Matt Link competes for Edinboro University during the Division II Atlantic Regional Championships.

No doubt, Link and his Edinboro University teammates were both thrilled and relieved on Nov. 5. The Fighting Scots captured their first Atlantic Regional title since 2007 and 21st overall at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Slippery Rock, Pa.

Edinboro finished with 71 points, five better than second-place Lock Haven. Shippensburg (108) earned the other berth.

The ninth-ranked Fighting Scots had five runners finish in the top 25 and earn all-regional honors.

Edinboro returns to the NCAA Championships after failing to qualify in 2010 for the first time in 31 years.

A 2010 graduate of Avon Lake High, Link was Edinboro’s No. 5 runner at regionals. He finished 21st in 33:18 for the 10K course, which featured hilly terrain.

“We knew we could make it out (of regionals),” Link said in a telephone interview. “We knew we were strong enough. Winning it was a nice little addition.”

Last year, only two teams qualified from regionals at Cary, N.C. Edinboro finished third with 56 points, seven points behind Shippensburg (49) for the second and final qualifying berth. Lock Haven won it with 28.

Edinboro defeated Lock Haven this time around despite the efforts of Eagles sophomore Alex Monroe, who won the race in 31:30.

Link didn’t have much of a season last year. He was only the No. 13 runner on the team as a freshman. As a result, he was red-shirted and began to prepare for 2011.

“I was very focused on my training this summer and throughout the fall,” said the 6-foot, 143-pound Link. “Everything kind of came together. It’s been a lot of fun this year.”

It wasn’t as if a slew of seniors graduated to open up a spot in the top seven for Link. Edinboro lost only one senior from a year ago. Link worked and moved his way up the ladder. Now, he’s on deck for nationals.

“The national course is flat and fast,” he said. “We need to take it out hard and go after it right from the beginning of the race. We’re going to compete. We’ve proven what we wanted to do for the season and proven who we are as a program. We only have one guy (Scott Anderson, second at regionals in 31:39) that runs very strong up front. We had 10 guys in the top 50 at conference and seven in the top 30 at regionals.

“Obviously, we don’t have the frontrunners like teams like Adams State and Western State have to win the NCAA. But we know that we can run with the best teams in Division II and finish in the top 10.”

The Ashland women captured the fourth and final qualifying berth at the Midwest Regional Championships on Nov. 5 at Katke Golf Course in Big Rapids, Mich.

Grand Valley State defended its title with 29 points. Ferris State (106), Saginaw State (135) and Ashland (193) grabbed the other spots. The Eagles held off Southern Indiana (199) for the final berth.

The Ashland women weren’t considered legitimate contenders after finishing only sixth at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference Championships on Oct. 22.

A 2011 graduate of Amherst Steele High School, Molnar was the Eagles’ No. 7 runner at regionals with a time of 26:06.6 on the 6K course. She finished 141st in the team race and 466th overall.

Molnar was a regional qualifier as a team member in high school, but never advanced beyond that level.

“We’re very excited,” Molnar said. “I never thought for my freshman year that I’d be traveling to nationals. I really didn’t know what to expect coming in.”

The regional course at Big Rapids was hilly, the most hills of any course the Eagles had challenged this year. Nationals will be a faster-paced event with no serious challenges as far as hills.

“We’re just trying to stay sharpened right now,” Molnar said. “We all would like to do better than we’re supposed to do. We’re nationally ranked No. 23 and we all would like to do better than that.”

Winslow wins title

Florida State junior co-captain Amanda Winslow, who ran cross country for Keystone High as a freshman and sophomore, won the NCAA Division I South Regional Cross Country title on Nov. 12.

Winslow captured her first individual victory of the season in 20:33.4 for the 6K race in Tuscaloosa, Ala. She led a 1-2-3 sweep by the Seminoles, who placed seven runners in the top 20.

Florida State scored 34 points to roll past Vanderbilt (54) and Florida (62). Last year’s NCAA runner-up, Florida State advances to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 21 in Terra Haute, Ind.

Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.