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Oct. 19, 2006

by Kevin McHale
Student Assistant, UVa Athletics Media Relations

Last fall, the Virginia women’s cross country team qualified for an at-large selection to the NCAA national meet. A fourth-place finish among a challenging field in the Southeast Regional race gained the Cavaliers national recognition and secured their bid among the 31 teams selected to the championship meet.

This season, the Cavaliers appear destined for a return trip to Terre Haute, Ind., to improve on their 26th-place finish from last year.Much of the optimism surrounding the program is generated from the accomplishments and contributions of third-year student-athlete Emily Harrison.

Harrison’s collegiate running career has been rare; her presence has been felt since her arrival on grounds as a first-year. While most high school runners find difficulty in making the transition to the higher level of NCAA competition, Harrison, a top Virginia state performer in high school, was able to adjust immediately. In 2004, she was the top finisher for the Cavs in every meet and secured a spot to compete at the national championships as an individual – an exceptional accomplishment for a first-year runner.

“During and after my senior year of high school, I became very focused on the idea of competing for UVa,” Harrison said. “Over the summer, I ran consistent mileage, and once the season started, the intensity of my training increased.”

She attributes much of her early and continued achievements to her strong focus on training as well as high goal-setting.

Aside from her obvious impact on the cross country course, Harrison demonstrates the kind of attributes necessary for consistent success as a student-athlete.

“Emily is a very even-keeled and focused athlete who, on a daily basis, exemplifies what it takes to be successful in our sport,” said head coach Jason Dunn. “She is a very dedicated and hard-working individual who is not afraid to challenge herself. These characteristics not only serve her well in her own right, but they also allow her to set a standard for her teammates to follow, which makes her an outstanding leader.”

Harrison’s training and study habits have proven invaluable as a model to underclassmen, as well as those above her. Not only has the team improved its athletic performance every year since the start of her time at the University, but last year women’s cross country recorded the second-highest collective grade-point average of any athletic team at UVa.

“She has great leadership qualities,” second-year teammate Lauretta Dezubay said. “She always brings a great attitude and positive mindset to anything we do as a team.”

Harrison employed such qualities last winter after the indoor track season, when a knee injury held her out of running for nearly a month after the ACC meet.

“It was difficult and frustrating to be held out of training and competition,” Harrison said. “But I did what I could to get healthy again, and patiently worked my way back in to a solid training routine.”

Within a few weeks, she was able to bounce back for the tail end of the outdoor track season to qualify for NCAA regionals in the 5,000 meters. Her return was also instrumental in helping the Cavaliers claim second place at the IC4A meet in early May.

This season, Harrison has already upped the ante in goal-setting.”Most importantly, our team is aiming for a top finish at the ACC meet, as well as a better finish at nationals in November,” Harrison said. “In doing so, I am hoping to place high enough among the competition to secure All-America honors.”

As her top early season performances have indicated, such goals should be within reach, which bodes well for the success of the Virginia women’s cross country program this fall.

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