EASTON — The Stonehill College cross country teams are heading west for their annual appearances in the NCAA Div. 2 Championships.
The Skyhawks women's team, which qualified for the nationals for the 12th year in a row, and the men's team, making their ninth straight trip, will be running at Plantes Ferry Regional Park in Spokane, Wash., on Saturday.
The women advanced after winning the East Regional for the third year in a row while the men placed second.
"People have gotten used to us going, but I've never gotten used to it,'' said Stonehill men's and women's coach Karen Boen, whose teams won Northeast-10 Conference titles last month. "Every year it's a different dynamic. We had five guys graduate last year and that doesn't mean the new five are automatically going to be the old five. It's completely different every year. You try to never let it stop.
"This year was probably as special when those teams qualified as any year I can remember because they were no superstars. It was team chemistry and pure hard work that got them both in.''
The women's team has used depth as its formula for success with six runners earning All-East recognition by placing in the top 23.
Senior tri-captain Maura Ferrarini led the way by taking eighth followed by sophomore Sarah Biggers (10th), junior tri-captain Kristen Veit (12th), sophomore Chelsea Bishop (13th), senior tri-captain Jill Alves of Whitman (14th) and junior Stephanie Wilson (23rd). The seventh runner headed to the nationals is freshman Brianna Venturo of Taunton, a Coyle-Cassidy graduate who was 26th in the regionals.
"This is probably the closest in terms of depth that we've ever had at Stonehill,'' said Boen, who was named the East Region women's coach of the year. "The separation from my first to the seventh runner is very minimal. Our top five runners were separated by 11 seconds at the regionals.
"That's been the strength. The order changes every week. We don't have one superstar, but we have a lot of very, very strong women runners.''
Alves, a Whitman-Hanson Regional High graduate, has been an All-East Regional runner all four seasons after finishing sixth as a freshman, eighth as a sophomore and fifth as a junior.
"Jill has always been just a great leader,'' said Boen. "She's always in the mix. She's just one of those runners who you can rely on all the time. She's not going to go hot and cold on you. You take Jill for granted because she's so consistent.''
Venturo has been a consistent contributor right away after making the jump from high school to the Div. 2 level.
"She doesn't leave anything out there,'' said Boen. "She is really a tough kid. I knew she was going to be good, but I did not anticipate her making this kind of impact.''
The men's team is led by senior Stephen Polito, who earned his second All-East Regional honor after finishing third.
"The times he's running are in line with some of the best runners we've had in the program,'' said Boen.
Seven other runners, including one alternate, will be joining Polito at the nationals, including sophomores Paul Cina of Pembroke, Scott Waller, Trent Fontanella and Michael Amirault, senior Corey Donahoe, junior Ethan Penney and freshman Daniel Gordon of Plymouth.
"I graduated five of my top seven last year and I figured well this might be just a rebuilding year for us,'' said Boen. "I remember saying to my husband that it's going to be a tough responsibility to be the first team not to qualify (since 2003).
"But when they came back and reported in preseason, I could just tell they had a made a lot of connections with each other all summer and were challenging each other and came back in phenomenal shape.''
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