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No. 25 women's cross country ready to compete for another trip to NCAAs

Captain Mary Szatkowski is one of five runners returning to the Bates women's cross country team from the 2016 squad that finished 19th at the NCAA Championships. (D3Photography.com file photo)

LEWISTON, Maine -- The No. 25 nationally ranked Bates women's cross country team races in its first full-fledged meet this season on its home course, as No. 10 Tufts, Wellesley and WPI visit Pineland Farms in New Gloucester for the Bates Invitational, with race time at 11:45am (the men's race begins at 11am).

The Bobcats hope the meet will prepare them for success later on: Bates also hosts the NESCAC Championship meet at Pineland in October, and ultimately hopes to make a return trip to the NCAA Championships.

The Bobcats had a promising start to the season last weekend at Pineland in the annual Bates/Colby Class Races. Senior captain Katherine Cook (South Burlington, Vt.) and sophomore standout Olivia LaMarche (Lynnfield, Mass.) tied for the win in the sophomore/senior race, thereby sharing NESCAC Co-Performer of the Week honors; more impressive, they both ran the fastest time in team history on the 2.84-mile course, at 16:53.

Bates will need that kind of performance and more to approach the success of the 2016 squad. That team placed third at NESCACs, its best finish since 1987 (leading to NESCAC Coach of the Year honors for 13th-year head coach Jay Hartshorn), and later earned its fourth-ever team bid to NCAAs.

The program graduated two of its leading runners in Jessica Wilson and Molly Chisholm, but also reloads with a talented first-year class, led by Abby Hamilton (Yarmouth, Maine), who tied junior Ayden Eickhoff (Corvallis, Mont.) for the win in the first-year/junior race Saturday.

"We are graduating two really good runners, but also have some newcomers and returners who seem pretty fit," Hartshorn said in last week's Bates Bobcast podcast.

Junior Katie Barker (Burlington, Vt.) is currently injured but hopes to be back by midseason following her breakout sophomore campaign. She joins senior captain Mary Szatkowski (Buxton, Maine) and junior Sarah Rothmann (Andover, Mass.) in giving Bates five veterans of the NCAA meet. Senior captain Callie Reynolds (West Hartford, Conn.), senior Rachael Rosow (Avon, Conn.) and juniors Hannah Austin (North Yarmouth, Maine) and Wendy Memishian (Medway, Mass.) will also look to crack the team's top seven.

Eickhoff, who won two All-America honors in track running middle distance last year, has spent her first offseason training for cross country and may be an X-factor for the team.