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Kali Duffy / Staff Photographer

The Lions' exciting season concluded with the team's first appearance at nationals since 2005.

Cross country’s season ended on Saturday morning when the women’s team finished 28th in a field of 31 teams at the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Lions had hoped for a more successful finish at nationals, but qualifying for the meet was an accomplishment in itself—the Lions had not competed in the championships since 2005, when the women finished 13th overall.

Initially unranked in the USTFCCCA polls this fall, Columbia worked its way up the rankings this season to 24th in the nation after the team won the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. The Lions suffered a disappointing finish in the NCAA Regionals last weekend when they finished outside of the top two and failed to automatically qualify, but the team still received an at-large bid to compete at Saturday’s national championships.

Senior Nell Crosby, who finished 141st with a time of 21:01.40 in the 6k, bounced back from her uncharacteristically lackluster performance at regionals to lead the Lions on Saturday. The race was tightly packed with 255 runners, and the top runner of the day finished less than two minutes ahead of Crosby. New Mexico’s Ednah Kurgat won the title and set a Division I NCAA Championships record when she crossed the finish line in 19:19.50, helping her team become national champions.

Senior Sarah Hardie, who ended her collegiate cross country career with a 153rd-place finish in a time of 21:06.90, finished close behind Crosby. Sophomore Fiona Danieu, junior Erin Gregoire, and senior Erin Melly rounded out the Light Blue’s top five, finishing in 165th, 188th, and 193rd place, respectively.

The Lions outpaced the only other Ivy team at the meet, Dartmouth, which finished in 29th place.

This season marked a tremendous comeback from the Lions’ 2016 campaign, in which they finished eighth at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. The turnaround for the Lions began almost as soon as that disappointing cross country season ended, with the women’s distance track and field team earning a national ranking in the 3k run during the indoor season.

This past month, the Light Blue finally redeemed itself for last year’s last-place finish by winning the Ivy title for the first time since 2005.

After Crosby, Hardie, and Melly graduate this spring, the top end of the Lions’ lineup will change dramatically. This turnover, however, is not unfamiliar for the Lions, who entered this season having graduated their top distance runners, Henna Rustami, CC ’17, and Natalie Tanner, CC ’17, in the spring.

The distance team will now prepare for the indoor track and field season, which will start on Friday, Dec. 1 at the Metro Season Opener in Staten Island.

Cross country Columbia Lions