PHILADELPHIA – The Felician University women's cross-country team concluded its 2019 season by setting a program record with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Division II East Regional Championship, hosted by the Jefferson Rams on Saturday afternoon at Belmont Plateau.
Felician did not attend the previous two NCAA Regional meets. The last time the Golden Falcons took part, in 2016 in Hopkinton, N.H., they finished 27th out of 28 complete teams. But this year, a resurgent Felician squad entered the race holding the No. 8 spot in the most recent regional coaches' ranking.
Felician, which joined the NCAA in 2002, had only twice before made the top 20. The Golden Falcons finished 17th in 2007 and 16th in 2008. On Saturday, among a field of 23 complete squads, they scored 258 points. Felician edged 2019 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference champion Jefferson by one point and ninth-place Franklin Pierce University by two points. It was 58 behind Assumption College in sixth.
"Our goal today was to be the top CACC team," said second-year Felician head coach Elson Smajlaj. "We made it happen by one point. A top-10 finish in the region was not a thought for us at the beginning of the season. Once we were in and out of the regional rankings all season long, it became a realistic goal."
Felician's young frontrunning duo of sophomore Shayla Morales (North Bergen, N.J./North Bergen) and freshman Ashley Linares (Passaic, N.J./Paramus Catholic) each turned in personal-bests on the 6,000-meter course. Morales' time of 23 minutes, 52 seconds, was the third-fastest 6K in the 20-year history of the Felician program. She placed 31st out of 162 finishers, coming six places and 18 seconds short of all-region status.
Linares crossed the finish line in 23:57, ranking No. 5 all-time for 6K at Felician, and ended up 33rd in the region.
Felician received a personal record from all five of its scorers. Junior Jillian O'Brien (Bogota, N.J./Bogota) ran a 24:32 and placed 53rd. Sophomore Hadeel Alshujaieh (Clifton, N.J./Clifton), who did not figure into the scoring in the CACC meet two weekends ago, was the Golden Falcons' fourth finisher, running 72nd in 25:01. Team captain Jane Burgoyne (Glen Rock, N.J./Glen Rock), the only senior among Felician's postseason top seven, took the fifth spot. She ran 70 seconds faster than her time on the same course a month earlier, clocking a 25:22 to place 86th.
"This season was a step in the right direction," Smajlaj said. "Coming into preseason we were simply looking to compete for a conference championship, and we were six points away. We don't even get that close, or get this result today, without Jane Burgoye scoring in both meets. For everyone else, I hope that our experience this year helps give them a better idea what to expect in terms of the competition from other teams and conferences."