When the University of Wisconsin built the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course that opened in 2009, it was intended to be one of the best courses in the country and offer a great place to compete for athletes and to watch for fans. Mission accomplished. With the fifth annual Wisconsin Adidas Invitational Saturday, October 19, many of the country’s best teams and individuals were on display. Several athletes proved they are to be considered among the nation’s best collegians, and two of them are Missourians. With second-place finishes in the featured races, Harvard senior Maksim Korolev and Providence senior Emily Sisson showed they should be considered top-10 contenders at next month’s NCAA Division Championships, in their final season of college cross country competition.
Sisson’ is no stranger to success on a national stage, while Korolev has qualified for two NCAA Championships, his results at those meets have been disappointing. An All-American finish at the national meet in Indiana next month would help move those disappointments way down in the memory bank.
The Wisconsin meet has arguably become the premier regular season competition in NCAA Division I. It is attracting many of the country’s best teams and individuals. It has even pulled many away from the Pre-National’s meet which had blossomed to the can’t-miss event over the previous decade-plus, giving teams the chance to run on that year’s national championship course a month before nationals. The Zimmer course is built next to the University of Wisconsin’s golf course, getting top-notch attention and maintenance from the University Ridge Golf Course staff.
Maksim Korolev, a Russian transplant to western Missouri, was a Missouri Class 3 state champion for Harrisonville, which never fielded a team, just Korolev. Korolev just missed a berth to Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals as a senior in 2009, placing 15th at the Midwest Regional his senior year. A few weeks after claiming the Missouri Class 3 1600 and 3200 meter titles at the state track meet in 2010, Korolev ran an 8:57 full two-mile at the Midwest Distance Classic outside of Chicago, IL.
After a phenomenal high school career that included four Foot Locker National meets with a third-place best finish in 2009, and the American High School 5k record of 15:47 at the 2010 World Junior Championships, Emily Sisson has enjoyed plenty of success at the college level. As a freshman for Wisconsin in 2010, Sisson finished 15th ??? at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. Injury kept her from competing indoors in 2011, but Sisson returned late in the outdoor track season to take 2nd?? at the Big 10 champs and qualify and finish 12th??? at the outdoor national meet.
After transferring to Providence her sophomore year, Sisson missed the 2011 NCAA Cross Country meet after resting at Regionals while her team shockingly had a bad day and missed nationals, the first time for Coach Ray Treacy in 28? years at Providence. After a 12th?? place finish at the 2012 Indoor national meet in the 3k, Sisson took 4th in the 5k at outdoor nationals on her father Mark’s birthday. Mark ran collegiately at Wisconsin. Sisson followed her second NCAA trophy with an Olympic Trials berth, were she qualified for the 5k finals, and finished as the second collegian to Dartmoth’s Abby Diagostino.
The 2012 Cross Country season didn’t start for Sisson until mid-October after battling an injury. Despite the short season, Sisson and the Providence women had a great finish. Sisson placed 16th and helped the Friars to the national title-for ten minutes at least. Providence was announced at winners at the national meet in Louisville, but results were corrected and Oregon Ducks ending up with the title as Providence settled for second.
At the NCAA Division I Indoor national meet in 2013, Sisson held on for most of the 5k’s record pace before fading late and falling to ninth. Outdoors, she again earned a trophy with her 6th place in the 5k, before taking 6th in the 10k at the USA Outdoor National Championships.
Sisson adds another highlight performance to long resume
Saturday, Sisson and her number-one ranked squad took off under sunny but cool conditions for 6 kilometers of racing on the Zimmer course. At 2-kilometers, Sisson’s teammate Sarah Collins led the 37 team race that had 288 finishers. Teammate Laura Nagel was in fifth while Sisson was 12th, a couple of strides back. Neosho native and Arkansas junior Jessica (Jackson) Kamilos was a stride and a half behind Sisson, in a pack of six of her Lady Razorback teammates, all in the top 25. Indiana redshirt freshman Amanda Behnke (Lutheran South HS), sat in 150’s place at 2k while Wisconsin redshirt junior Liga Blyholder (Lee’ s Summit West HS) was working her way to catch teammates and was around 220th.
At 3700 meters, Dartmouth senior Abbey D’Agostino and Texas senior Marielle Hall had pulled away from the field, by six seconds with D’Agostino a couple of strides ahead of Hall. Sisson had moved to fifth, next to teammate Collins, and just behind Arizona’s Elvin Kibet, with Arizona State’s Shelby Houlihan and Duke’s Juliet Bottoroff right behind in the pack of 13. Jessica Jackson fell back to around 65th at 3700 meters, but was at the lead of a pack of about 25 women. Behnke was moving well, and up to about 105 more than half way into the race. Blyholder had caught two teammates, but still appeared to be about 220th at 3700 meters.
All four Missouri women moved up over the final 2300 meters. Sisson especially did so over the final 1500 meters. Even if you didn’t see her striding by the competition and putting ground on everyone but D’Agostino on the nice turf grass, you could hear her progress from announcer Miles Krieger. Krieger is a Chronotrak timing technology employee, Southern Indiana graduate and former Southeast Missouri State Cross Country Coach.
Sisson not only left her group of 13 behind, but she caught and passed Texas’ Hall. D’Agostino flew down the final 300 meter finish straight that starts with a slight incline before leveling out for the final third. D’Agostino finished in 19:31. Sisson powered to the finish, with no breakdown in form or obvious signs of fatigue. She finished second in 19:44, a 5:18 mile average pace. Marielle Hall was third in 19:46. Houlihan was fourth, while Providence finished with three in the top ten with Collins in 5th and Laura Nagel 9th.
While Arizona’s Kibet fading to 21st, she had three teammates pass her. The Wildcats went 7-15-18-21-56 to total 117 points for the victory. Jessica Kamilos finished 58th, one spot behind teammate Stephanie Brown who was the Razorbacks 5th scorer. The Ladyback’s finished 6-8-13-52-57 to total 136 points for second place. Sisson’s Providence squad easily had the best top 4 going 2-5-9-37, but had their fifth scorer finish 138th to give the Friars 191 points for third.
Amanda Benke’s performance was nearly as impressive as Sisson’s. Behnke and brother Adam, All-State standouts for Lutheran South High School in St. Louis, arrived on Indiana’s Bloomington campus in the summer of 2012. Amanda as a freshman and Adam as a fifth-year graduate student and transfer from Columbia University where he earned his bachelor’s degree. Adam finished out his eligibility and helped the Hoosiers to an 18th place finish at the cross counry national meet in 2012, before qualifying for another NCAA Preliminary Championships 1500 last spring. Amanda redshirted the whole year and never competed in the IU uniform. Amanda finished 98th Saturday in 21:06, placing 4th on the Hoosier squad that finished 13th. Behnke appeared nearly transformed from her successful high school days, looking fitter than ever after more than a year of college training.
Liga Blyholder, the strong 1500/5000 meter runner on the track, kicked home for 166th place. She finished in 21:35, two seconds back of a teammate for 7th on the team as the Badgers took 17th on their home course.
Despite losing the 2012 individual national champion, two other All-Americans to graduation, and having a coaching change, Colleen Riley’s (Lindbergh HS) Iowa State team finished fifth. Riley, who ran at last year’s national meet for the Cyclones, opened her season Saturday in the B-race, after missing this season’s previous races with injuries. Riley was in the B-race last year posting a top 15- finish before eventually moving up and running on the top seven at regionals and nationals. This year Riley took fifth in 21:21. The St. Louis area native and former middle distance standout for the Lindbergh Flyers said she has grown to love cross country.
Korolev makes noise with 2nd place finish, Hoover & Northern Arizona take title
In the meet’s first race of the day, the men toed the start line for the featured 8k race. At 2k Arkansas’ Kemoy Campbell led teammate Stanley Kebenei by five meters and the rest of the field by about 25 meters. Arizona’s Lawi Lalang led the chase pack with Eastern Kentucky’s Soufiane Bouchikhi right behind. Harvard’s James Leakos and Maksim Korolev were two steps back with N.C. State’s Andrew Colley on their tail.
2nd year Illinois runner Janis Topfer, a senior who spent his senior year of high school as an exchange student at St. Louis’ MICDS was near the top 30 while Mizzou senior Hayden Legg came through around 55th. A third former Missouri Class 3 All-Stater, Sam Dickerson, a Mizzou redshirt sophomore from Moberly was a step back of Legg. Northern Arizona junior Caleb Hoover ran by just under 100th place. The former College Heights Christian star had a great race at the national meet last fall, helping the /