Dena O’Brien has learned to set her goals very, very high.
When she sat down to talk with the George Street Observer in October, she said that to become the first College of Charleston runner to ever qualify for an NCAA Nationals meet was “probably going to take under 20:30 in the 6K, and probably a Top 10 at the (Louisville, Ky.) Regional.”
Never mind that she had finished 61st at the same regional last year as a freshman, or that her time of 21:46.3, which had shattered the previous school record for six kilometers, was more than 70 seconds away from where she knew she needed to be.
O’Brien came within seconds of her goal in Louisville on Saturday morning, but will probably be a few, painful seconds short of qualifying when the official Nationals selections are announced on Sunday.
She once again demolished the school record, running a 20:40.0 to finish in 11th place, and taking 66 seconds off her time at the same track last season. Only the Regional Championships, Nationals and a special “pre-Nationals” race at the site of the championships are run at the 6K distance. The rest of the cross country season is run over five-kilometer courses.
As a team, the Cougar women finished 26th out of 35 teams. Senior Kristen Wolfe ran a 22:58.1, to finish 140th out of the 240-runner field, and freshman Hayley McMahon’s 23:13.1 was good for 159th place.
On the men’s side, the Cougars finished 28th out of 32 teams, led by sophomore’s Andrew Nelson’s 33:45.1 time in the 10-kilometer race. Nelson’s race was good for 10th all-time among CofC runners, and he finished 152nd out of the 218-runner field.
O’Brien’s time was 48 seconds behind the meet-winning time of North Carolina’s Kendra Schaaf, but her goal of 20:30 would have put her in seventh place, which would probably have earned a berth at Nationals. Six kilometers translates to 3.73 miles, and she ran the course at a 5:33-per-mile pace. Only one other under classman, sophomore Elaina Balouris of William & Mary, finished above her; the rest of the top 10 were composed of eight seniors and one junior.