PHILADELPHIA – The Felician University women's cross-country team set a program record by having four runners named all-conference following the 2019 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) Championship meet, hosted by Chestnut Hill College on Sunday morning at Fairmount Park's Belmont Plateau.
Teamwise, Felician, the No. 7 team in the NCAA Division II East Region coaches' ranking, fell six points short of earning the first league title in program history. With 48 points, the Golden Falcons were the runners-up to the Jefferson Rams, ranked 8th regionally. Felician improved from its fourth-place result of a year ago. In 2017, the Golden Falcons were 13th.
More information is available at https://www.caccathletics.org/sports/xc/2019-20/releases/1027WChamp.
"Every year, we're trying to be a better version of ourselves," said second-year Felician head coach Elson Smajlaj. "This was definitely an improvement from last year all the way around. I'm proud of the four women who made all-CACC. They ran well all year."
By CACC rules, the first 15 finishers were automatically named all-conference. Sophomore Shayla Morales (North Bergen, N.J./North Bergen) came in second out of 87 runners, her second consecutive second-place conference finish. Running through a heavy rain, Morales traversed 5,000 meters in 20 minutes, 14 seconds. Felician freshman Ashley Linares (Passaic, N.J./Paramus Catholic) placed fourth in 20:33 and was accorded the status of CACC Rookie of the Year.
Coming off her all-CACC performance in the 10,000-meter run in last year's track & field championship meet, redshirt junior Jillian O'Brien (Bogota, N.J./Bogota) earned the same honor in cross-country by finishing 10th on Sunday in 21:20. Junior Vanessa Saiboo (Jersey City, N.J./County Prep) nabbed the final all-conference spot, finishing 15th in 21:35. One year ago, Saiboo was not even chosen by Smajlaj to be among Felician's top seven to participate in the championship. This time, she finished fewer than two seconds ahead of 16th place.
Slotting into the final scoring position for Felican was senior captain Jane Burgoyne (Glen Rock, N.J./Glen Rock) (17th, 21:38). Also in the line-up, and able to displace those finishing below them, were sophomores Hadeel Alshujaieh (Clifton, N.J./Clifton) (20th, 21:51), and Bri Balderas (Somerset, N.J./Franklin) (34th, 23:03).
Felician finished second in the CACC championship meet for the fourth time, having also done so in 2005, 2006, and 2007. The Golden Falcons saw three runners reach the all-conference team in 2007 – Toni Fowler (6th) and school Hall of Famers Amanda Scibetta (7th) and Sarah Root (14th).
"The awards are nice but it's still a sad day," Linares said. "The first thing I learned about this team was the goal was to be conference champions. At first, I thought it was crazy but as each week went by it became more realistic. Jefferson ran a smart, strategic race and I respect them for that."
Jefferson (formerly Philadelphia University) won its sixth consecutive CACC championship. The Rams will host the NCAA Division II East Regional Championship meet on Nov. 9 on a 6,000-meter course at Belmont.
"Congratulations to Jefferson; they ran very well," Smajlaj said. "We went 2-2 in our head-to-head meetings this year and I look forward to the tiebreaker at regionals."