Women's Cross-Country Improves Nine Slots In CACC Meet

Women's cross-country close-up, others in background.
Bri Balderas improved by nearly three minutes on the same course to finish 16th at the 2018 CACC Championship. (Ellen O'Brien)

PHILADELPHIA – One year after finishing last among 13 complete teams in the same event, the Felician University women's cross-country team placed fourth out of 14 in the 2018 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) championship meet, hosted by the Jefferson Rams on Sunday at Fairmount Park's Belmont Plateau.

With four freshmen in the line-up, the Golden Falcons scored 123 points, 24 behind Chestnut Hill College in third-place. Felician scored 11 fewer points than fifth-place University of the Sciences, before a nearly 40-point drop-off to the next spot in the standings.

More information is available at http://caccathletics.org/sports/xc/2018-19/releases/1028ChampW.

"Our goal was to finish in the top three," said first-year Felician head coach Elson Smajlaj. "We thought that was realistic with the talent we had. Some late-season injuries and illnesses hurt us, but based on where we were last year, this is a great achievement."

By CACC rules, the first 15 finishers were automatically named all-conference. Freshman Shayla Morales (North Bergen, N.J./North Bergen) came in second out of 89 runners and was accorded the status of CACC Rookie of the Year. Additionally, she became Felician's first all-CACC female since Kassie Topp in 2014.

Morales covered 5,000-meters in a flat 20:00. Fellow freshman Bri Balderas (Somerset, N.J./Franklin) fell six seconds short of all-conference honors, finishing 16th with a time of 21:23, and sophomore Jillian O'Brien (Bogota, N.J./Bogota) was 19th in 21:27. Jefferson freshman Maddy Frasch nabbed 15th place and the final all-league position by crossing the line in 21:17.

Slotting into the final scoring positions for Felican were freshman Hadeel Alshujaieh (Clifton, N.J./Clifton) and junior Jane Burgoyne (Glen Rock, N.J./Glen Rock). Also in the line-up, and able to displace those finishing below them, were freshman Alysson Martinez (Union City, N.J./Union City) (56th, 24:24) and sophomore Kayla Hightower (Norfolk, Va./Camden [N.J.]) (63rd, 24:56). Burgoyne and Hightower were the only two Golden Falcons with previous CACC Championship experience.

"Bri was our biggest surprise," Smajlaj said. "Like Shayla, she was a middle-distance specialist in high school. Over the course of the season she went from over 24 minutes to well under 22. Hadeel and Jillian were solid for us all season long."

Jefferson (formerly Philadelphia University) won its fifth consecutive CACC championship, outscoring Wilmington (Del.) University, 56-95.