LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- With only three runners remaining from its NCAA team a year ago, the Bates women's cross country team finished an improbably great 2019 season at the NCAA Division III Championships on Saturday by placing 14th out of 32 teams, the team's best-ever national finish.
The Bobcats moved up from 19th place at the 4-kilometer mark, passing five teams over the final two kilometers. Ranked 19th in the country entering the race, Bates scored 388 points, four points shy of 13th-place RPI (384) and 18 points ahead of 15th-place Middlebury (406). Johns Hopkins (125) won the team title. The program's previous highest NCAA finish was 15th place in 1997.
"We are really happy to get our best finish ever for cross country," said head coach Jay Hartshorn. "We almost had two races going on with our team. Three of us got out well and stayed in great position. The other four got out slower and moved up really well, as they definitely felt better at the end. As a coach, I was just hoping our back half would catch up, which they did, and that was why we passed five teams in the last 2K."
First-year Jillian Richardson (Auburn, Maine) led the Bobcats for the fifth time in six races this season, finishing 56th out of 280 runners in 22:24.2 over 6 kilometers. Richardson trailed only six other first-year runners, and was 1.1 seconds behind the 55th-place runner, Suffolk senior Emily Manfra. Richardson was less than 16 seconds outside of the top 40 individuals, who receive All-America honors.
Senior captain Olivia LaMarche (Lynnfield, Mass.), racing in the NCAA Championships for the third time in her career, was just steps behind Richardson in 59th place (22:29.6) after steadily moving up during the race from 84th place at the 1-kilometer mark.
Junior Abby Hamilton (Yarmouth, Maine) finished third for Bates and 116th overall in 22:59.5, in her second career NCAA Championship race. Hamilton was only the 237th runner to pass the 1K mark, then moved up 52 places at the 3K mark, 17 more at 4K and another 52 over the final two kilometers.
Sophomore Tara Ellard (Brewster, Mass.), Bates' third NCAA returner, finished in 122nd in 23:00.9.
First-year Lily Harding (Kenfield, Calif.) was Bates' fifth and final scorer, finishing 196th in 23:29.4. Harding passed 52 competitors between the 1K mark and the finish line.
Bates' five previous team berths to the NCAA Championships occurred in 1995 (placing 18th out of 21 teams), 1997 (15th/21), 2012 (19th/32), 2016 (19th/32) and 2018 (17th/32). The 2018 team included four now-graduated seniors: Sarah Rothmann, Wendy Memishian and its top two runners in Katie Barker and Ayden Eickhoff.