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Stites runs away with national cross-country championship

  • A champion's stride
    A champion's stride  Emily Stites flashes the form that made her the champion of the USA Track and Field 6K cross-country race on Feb. 9.  Courtesy Mike Scott
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Last fall, cross-country runner Emily Stites was named an All-American after finishing 26th overall at the NCAA Championships. She also was named Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the year.

We wondered what was next.

In January, the freshman from Ohio was the top United States finisher at the BUPA Great Edinburgh Cross-Country Challenge, finishing seventh against the best junior runners from Great Britain and Europe.

Now we wondered what was left for the lanky 18-year-old her to achieve this year.

We didn’t have long to wait.

In early February in St. Louis, Sities won the national junior title (20 and under) at the USA Track and Field Cross-Country Championships by smashing the field of 55 in the 6k women’s race. And "smash" isno exaggeration. Stites blazed past teen phenom Erin Finn over the final 2K to win by 21.3 seconds and by more than 40 seconds over the third-place finisher.

“I knew a couple of girls in the race, and I just tried to stay with pack in the early part of the race, see how their pace was going," she said. "Erin Finn and I ran with each other early in the race and that helped.

“I started a little slower than I typically do, but in the middle part of the race I was able to pick it up a bit. Once I felt good, I just kept going and tried to finish strong.”

And she made history in the process. Stites is the first freshman for either men or women, and the third woman overall in the history of W&M cross-country and track and field to win a national title.

“I wasn’t expecting this at all,” she says of her astounding freshman season.

Next up: Representing Team USA in the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on March 24. She’ll be joined by five teammates from across the country for a one-race, winner-take-all event. There, she’ll compete with the best juniors in the world, matching strides with traditionally powerful Jamaican and Ethiopian competitors.

“She was able to see Great Britain’s team (at a meet) in Scotland, so she was able to see some people and see where she might fit in,” said coach Jill Miller.

The way her year has been going, that could well be at the head of the pack.

“I’m only a freshman and I’m just amazed that I have an opportunity like this,” Stites said. “Not many people do."