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Western State men dominate Division II cross country meet

Ryan Haebe started smiling long before his chest broke the invisible plane that meant victory.

Out of breath and completely exhausted, Haebe looked as if he still had unfinished business. Haebe quickly turned his attention to the finish line. Seconds later, Western State College teammate Tyler Pennel ran straight into his arms.

Haebe and Pennel finished first and second, respectively, to lead the Western State (Colo.) College men’s team to a national title at the NCAA Division II cross country championships on Saturday at Plantes Ferry Sports Complex.

Haebe covered the 10,000-meter course in 30 minutes, 45.1 seconds, while Shippensburg (Penn.) University’s Neely Spence led the women’s race wire to wire and successfully defended her national title by covering the 6,000-meter course in 20:53.8.

Augustana (S.D.) won the women’s team title, edging the Western State women.

“Our women worked really hard to try and win that title – we wanted to come back with a men’s and women’s title,” Western State cross country coach Jennifer Michel said. “But this was just the most amazing day for us. About 30 fans – 40 if you include our families – followed us here and to have that many people out here cheering you on in the freezing cold, and it’s snowing – where else does that happen?”

The Western State men dethroned three-time defending champion Adams State and picked up their first men’s team title since 2005, when the Mountaineers had finished a run of six titles in seven years.

Within minutes of Haebe and Pennel crossing the finish line to conclude the men’s race, several more of the Western State men’s cross country team joined the winner and the runner-up for a boisterous, all-out celebration at the finish line.

They knew they had won as a team – something that had been just out of reach the last four years – and that’s what seemed to matter most to Haebe.

“Blood, sweat, tears – we work so hard for this every single day,” Haebe said. “We’ve been second so many times, but this is the best team we’ve ever had. We run as a pack everywhere we go and everyone put it all together today.

“This is the best feeling I’ve ever had. (Pennel and I) talked about finishing as the top two – we had that dream. But you always get nervous and you don’t really think it will happen. I can’t believe it. I don’t even know what’s going out right now, I’m so happy.”

It was hard to believe the enthusiasm that was on display was real. With the temperatures below freezing and snow blowing at more of a sideways angle – the weather conditions did not seem ideal.

Haebe begged to differ.

“This was exactly what we wanted,” he said. “Sometimes in Gunnison (Colo.) we run in negative temperatures – so when we woke up today and saw this, we were excited. We knew it would help us.”

The fans didn’t seem to be complaining.

“The support has just been unbelievable,” Haebe said. “When you’re running like that, and you pass a group of people that are essentially running the course with you, and they’re yelling for you – it gets you going.

“That’s what our sport is all about – doing this together, and doing it well.”

The Western Washington men’s team finished 10th after being ranked 22nd heading into the race. The Western Washington women’s team placed 12th after being ranked 14th.

Division III

Whitworth’s Joy Shufeldt ran 6,000 meters in 22:08.40 to place 76th among women at the national meet in Oshkosh, Wis.

Whitworth’s Aaron Jenkins (26:02.97 for 8,000) placed 217th among men.

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