TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Rebecca Walters would have been unlikely to be cast as a future collegiate heroine last fall at Groves High School in Beverly Hills, Mich. while running in relative obscurity.

“She wasn’t even on the national scene recruiting-wise last year during her senior year of high school,” said coach Mike McGuire.

But her stalwart effort led the Michigan women’s cross country team to an unexpectedly strong 15th place finish at yesterday’s NCAA Championships.

Walters finished in 51st place with a time of 20:49.3 and was followed across the finish line by junior teammate Lindsey Gallow in 21:22.4. Senior captain Jane Martineau surpassed her lifetime best by 25 seconds, to finish third among the Wolverines with a time of 21:22.7.

Coach Mike McGuire was especially pleased with Walters’ performance.

“She turned in one of our best performances ever by a first-year freshman. During the last 3,000 meters she passed 32 competitors while being overtaken only once,” he said “That is both exceptional and rare.”

McGuire explained that Walters’ performance was especially noteworthy because she didn’t have the high school credentials of many of her competitors.

“She adapted very well to a college level training regimen and does a great job of maintaining her composure during races,” McGuire said. “As a result, she was able to defeat many young women who were far more heavily recruited than she.”

McGuire was equally pleased by the team’s overall performance.

“We weren’t even ranked nationally preseason, but won the Big Ten and finished second in our region and entered this tournament ranked 15th nationally. Our goal here was to hold our ranking and we did,” he said.

McGuire said he expected his younger runners to use today’s race to hone the mental toughness necessary to compete at national level events featuring large fields of talented athletes, saying that mental toughness is a key indicator of national success.

Walters seemed to echo McGuire, saying that yesterday’s race was especially difficult mentally.

“Some racers were falling down after being elbowed or spiked by other runners jockeying for position,” she said, ” I had to hurdle one girl who fell in front of me. I was tiring out near the end, but on the final straightaway I got a burst and ended on a good note.”

Martineau said she was pleased to end her collegiate career on such a positive note.

“In past years, we had multiple All-Americans, but this year we accomplished what we have because we were as close as a group of girls can be and because we worked so hard together,” Martineau said.

Walters, whose previous best time was set just last week at the Great Lakes Regional, said that she hoped to continue her improvements next year.

“I am going to continue working hard and shoot for All-America,” she said.

Brigham Young finished first among teams with a low score of 85 points. Stanford was second with 113 and Notre Dame third with 170. North Carolina’s Shalane Flanagan finished first individually in 19:36.

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