Asheville Christian Academy alum Whitney Thornburg is the school’s first-ever NCAA Division I national champion.
Thornburg, who graduated in 2011, helped the New Mexico women win the NCAA cross country meet held Saturday in Louisville, Ky.
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Lobos’ motto this week was, “Expect Nothing, Achieve Everything.”
On Saturday, they did just that.
Behind one of the most dominating performances in NCAA history, the No. 1 University of New Mexico women’s cross country team won its first-ever national title Saturday at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
The Lobo women, competing in their 10th-ever NCAA Championship, placed all five of their scorers in the top 25 at E.P. ‘Tom’ Sawyer State Park in Louisville and combined to score 49 points, the lowest team score by any team since 1982.
“It’s a great day,” New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin said. “Super excited for the women. They’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives and that’s really special.”
The Lobos’ championship is the second NCAA title in University of New Mexico history, joining the New Mexico skiing’s NCAA title in 2004. It’s the fourth NCAA women’s cross country title in Mountain West history.
“It’s amazing,” senior Courtney Frerichs said after the race.
Long deemed the prohibitive favorite after assembling its talented squad of runners, the Lobos lived up to their reputation, running through the 31-team field to an 80-point victory over runner-up Colorado.
New Mexico’s margin of victory is the fifth-largest in NCAA history and the best since 2004. No. 2 Colorado finished with 149 points, while No. 5 Oregon was third with 214 points.
It’s the second straight top-three finish for the Lobos, who placed third last year in an upstart and portentous performance.
Frerichs led UNM over the women’s six-kilometer course, placing fourth overall in 19 minutes, 48 seconds. The Lobos’ top runner at four of the five meets at which they ran in 2015, her finish is the best in program history, besting Sammy Silva’s 12th-place finish from 2013.
Alice Wright wasn’t far behind Frerichs, finishing fifth overall in 19:53.1. In fact, the Lobos finished with a team spread of 29.5 seconds, the lowest since the NCAA moved the distance of the championship race to six kilometers in 2000.
Rhona Auckland finished 13th overall in 20:07.1, with Calli Thackery (15th, time of 20:07.3) and Molly Renfer (24th, 20:17.5) also scoring for the Lobos.
All five earned All-American honors (which are given to the top 40 finishers), making them the first women’s team to have five All-Americans in a single championships since Villanova in 2009.
New Mexico is also just the first team since the 2001 BYU women to place all five of their scorers in the top 25.
Heleene Tambet (74th, 20:40.4) and Whitney Thornburg (109th, 20:55.4) rounded out the New Mexico contingent.
“Everyone played a role,” Frerichs said. “Rhona got to the outside for us which helped through the bumps. Molly got out front. Every did an amazing job. We couldn’t have done it without each other.”
The Lobos were in second place 2,000 meters into the race on a windy and chilly Saturday. UNM trailed Oregon by 91 points for first place a third of the way through the race.
Although all five scorers were in the top 50 through 2 kilometers, New Mexico fought back as they raced progressed, eventually moving up as a team en route to the win.
“We thought that they could score well, but you never know when you get out there,” Franklin said. “You look at the 2K splits and we were way back, but they kept plugging and plugging and plugging.”
But, for a New Mexico team that went in without any expectations, they came away with their first national title.