For junior Brian Lang, his performance last weekend at the NCAA Atlantic Regionals in Ohio that qualified him for his first appearance at the NCAA Nationals was a long time coming.

‘Making it to Nationals has always been a goal of mine,” Lang said. ‘My dream is to compete with and to compete well with the best Division III runners in the nation. Accomplishing my goal allows me to do just that.”

Just the same, sophomore Lauren Norton’s performance will give Norton her second appearance in the NCAA National meet. In a race where every place and second counted, Norton physically gave all she had to place 12th out of 239 total runners.

‘It went out really fast, as to be expected, and I was mostly hanging on until the very end,” Norton said. ‘The race organizers basically had to pick me up off the finish line because I literally had no more energy.”

Norton’s performance, along with fellow teammate junior Megan O’Connor’s, was enough to place both of them on the All-Regional Team for the Atlantic region. O’Connor finished 33rd in a career personal best time of 23:17.0.

Both Yellowjacket teams faced their toughest competition of the year, with what has been a long journey for all the runners, culminating in one single race. They both hoped to place enough runners to qualify for Nationals as a team, but found themselves falling just short of their much sought after goal.

‘By focusing individually on our races, we believed we would in turn help the team place well,” senior Allison McComb said. ‘I believe we all ran well, we were just outrun by other teams in their attempt to fulfill the same goal.”

McComb finished third for the Yellowjackets, setting another personal best for the Yellowjackets with a time of 25:52.8.

Finishing off the Yellowjackets top five were sophomore Hillay Snyder in 81st place and senior Suzanna Giaunta in 84th place, finishing less than 10 seconds behind Snyder.

Even with strong races from the whole team, it wasn’t enough to qualify for nationals. The team placed ninth, just shy of the fifth place that would have all but assured their spot at nationals.

‘At the mile and two-mile, we were in a position to accomplish that, as we had everyone placed closely together and only a 15 to 20 second gap,” head coach Barbara Hartwig said. ‘Somewhere between 4000 and 5000 meters everyone spread out and the gap was huge. You can’t do that in a meet of this caliber. However, four of the seven runners had personal bests.”

‘The top three teams were basically set going into the race, but spots four and five could easily have been any of six to 10 different teams, including our team,” O’Connor added. ‘It all depended on who could finish with the closest pack of runners to help cut down the score.”

The Yellowjacket men had a tough race of their own, finishing an overall eighth place out of the 38 teams in the National qualifier.

Lang led the pack with his 18th-place finish, qualifying for his first-ever National meet. He was followed by sophomore James Vavra, who finished 26th, junior Jon Pinto, coming in 51st, sophomore Jason Zayac, taking 75th, and junior Daniel Lane, coming in 99th, meaning scoring Yellowjacket runners are all within the top-100 of the meet.

Vavra missed joining teammate Lang at the National meet by a margin of only two seconds, placing behind the last individual runner to qualify for Nationals.

For individual runners, the runners already going to nationals as part of a team are removed from the standings, and the next top seven runners qualify.

With this season over, the ‘Jacket women already have their hopes high for the same goal next season.

‘We are losing three of our top seven, and now the pressure will be on the remaining team members to step it up and fill those gaps,” O’Connor said. ‘We were almost there this year, and I believe next year we can make it.”

Lang is just as confident of the men’s chances for next season as well. With a strong team of juniors returning, Lang hopes that next season will finally be the year where the whole Yellowjacket team will follow him to the NCAA Nationals.

‘I am proud of how our team raced this season,” he said. ‘We have improved vastly from last year to this year. We, the juniors on this team, now have one chance left to make it to nationals as a group. Next year, things will work out better.”

Clark is a member of the class of 2012.

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