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CMS celebrates with its second NCAA trophy in the last three years (photo by Nico Klementzos)
CMS celebrates with its second NCAA trophy in the last three years (photo by Nico Klementzos)

Natalie Bitetti's NCAA Runner-Up Finish Leads CMS Women's Cross Country to Fourth Place

NEWVILLE, Pa. - Natalie Bitetti tied the highest finish ever for a Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's cross country runner by ending in second place, and the Athenas earned the NCAA fourth-place trophy in a very tight team battle at the NCAA Division III Championships on Saturday at Big Spring High School in Newville, Pennsylvania.

The top four teams were separated by only seven points in one of the closest team competitions in championship history. as Carleton earned the national title with 151 points, followed by NYU in second with 154, Chicago in third with 156 and CMS in fourth with 158. It is the second time in the last three years that CMS has come home with a trophy in an incredibly close race, after finishing as the national runner-up to Johns Hopkins in 2021 by only two points. 

Bitetti had a huge performance for the Athenas to earn All-America honors for the third time in her career. She finished 16th as a sophomore in 2021, then slipped to 39th last year in frigid, snowy conditions below 20 degrees in Michigan to make the All-America cutoff by just one spot, She responded with a spectacular effort this season in more mild 50-degree weather to come in second, matching the best finish for any SCIAC runner of either gender in the history of the NCAA Cross Country Championships, with four women and two men earning runner-up from the conference (four of which have been from CMS). 

CMS has had two prior women's runner-ups in program history, with Cindy Nagle earning second in 1981, and Bryn McKillop matching it in 2017, with Becky Kopchik of Occidental the only other SCIAC runner to earn second-place. The Stags have also had one runner-up (David Juiliano in 2001) as well as two recent third-place finishers (Thomas D'Anieri in 2019 and Henry Pick in 2021). Joel Jamison of Occidental was also a second-place men's finisher in 1974.  

Bitetti was joined by teammates Riley Capuano and Elle Marsyla on the All-America podium. Capuano came in 11th place with a 21:20.2, while Marsyla was 27th in 21:36.7. Sara Wexler was the fourth Athena to cross in 22:16.1, finishing 73rd (with 55 points towards the team total), and Angie Gushue added a top-100 finish in 88th in 22:24.2 to score 69 points. 

Fiona Smith of Saint Benedict was the individual champion, finishing in 19:54.1 to set a new NCAA Division III record, but she qualified as an individual, which made Bitetti the highest scoring runner in the team competition. Smith ran away from the pack, but Bitetti stayed in a tight group of the next six runners for most of the race, and was able to win that battle to come in second, 1.9 seconds ahead of Penelope Greene in third and 2.7 seconds ahead of Grace Hadley in fourth. 

Capuano's 11th place finish represtened the biggest improvement in the country. Capuano wasn't among the five scorers for the Athenas a year ago, coming in 257th at the NCAA Championships, but leapt up 246 places from her first year to her second. 

Marsyla also took a big jump from a year ago, moving up from 107th place as a first-year into 27th as a sophomore. She also moved up from 12th in the West Regionals last season to second this year. Gushue broke into the top 100 for the first time, after finishing 131st and 105th in her first appearances at nationals, while Wexler earned a top 100 after only running in two races last year, finishing 46th at SCIACs. 

Laura Zimmer capped off her cross country career with a 154th place finish in 22:52.4, while Revere Schmidt competed at nationals in her debut season and finished 178th in 22:59.0