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Army Opens Star Series With Women's XC Win

ANNAPOLIS, Md - For the second consecutive season, the Army West Point women's cross country team defeated service academy rival Navy at the Army-Navy Star Meet to kick off the 2020-21 Army-Navy Star Series presented by USAA.
For the third meet in a row, freshmen Georgia Jones and Helen Shearer led the charge for the Black Knights, placing second and third respectively en route to a 27-29 win for the Cadets at the USNA Cross Country Course at the Naval Academy's golf course in Annapolis, Md., on Saturday.
The pair have been superb to start their Army careers, with Jones placing first and Shearer placing second on the team in each of Army's three meets this season.
Depth was key for the Black Knights in the race, as the Cadets claimed six of the top ten positions. Navy held a five-point lead late in the meet before key moves by the Black Knights led the team to victory. Sophia Sandy was the third Cadet to cross the line, placing sixth overall, while senior captain Mika Andrews placed seventh. Sarah Grodin and Alexandra Gibbs finished ninth and tenth respectively to round out the top ten.
This marks Army's first women's Star Meet victory at the Naval Academy since 2010, which was also the last time the Black Knights defeated Navy in consecutive seasons. It also marks just the fifth win by the Black Knights at the Naval Academy. Army's senior class has now won three out of their four cross country Star Meets, becoming the first class to achieve that feat since the class of 2005 won all four of their Star Meets. Jones' second place finish was the best by an Army freshman in the Star Meet since Bethany Nunnery won the individual title in 2016. Navy senior Emily Craig placed first in the race for the second consecutive season. 

COACH'S CORNER: Head Coach Mike Smith
"It was an extraordinary win for our women today. It has been historically difficult for us to win this meet on this course. Going into today we had only won the meet at Annapolis four times (1986, 2002, 2004, 2010). Today marks win number five and it was a hard fought win by a very narrow margin.In fact, we have won three out of the last four of these star meets on the women's side and each of those wins has come by two points or fewer. That fact alone illustrates how important it is for us to be on our game in order to win. The two teams are remarkably similar and in a dual meet format mistakes are magnified.  We were behind 30-25 with a mile to go and still down 29-27 with 400m to go. Mika and Sophia passed the same Navy runner over the last 2' of the race and that sealed the win for us. In the end, we made very few mistakes today and the risks that we took paid off.  

Our training this fall has been very deliberate in preparation for this day. I knew what to expect from this course, but each kid on our team only gets two shots to run on this course in their career and that makes it a great challenge to understand it especially if you are young and this is your first time racing it. It is very hilly, has a lot of turns and lacks rhythm so you have to be in it mentally the whole way or you will get chewed up. I was really impressed with how our plebes handled the moment today and the course. I expected Georgia and Helen to lead us, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Sophia up there with Mika. Both Georgia and Helen are relatively new to cross country which makes their achievements all that more remarkable. I know I have said it before, but it cannot be overstated how impressive it is to have two young women that were soccer players in high school step into the biggest rivalry in collegiate sport and perform as if they have been there before. Our top three today (Georgia, Helen, Sophia) were plebes and this was the first time they had ever run the 6km distance. When you factor in the enormity of the Star Meet and the fact that we are in a pandemic, their performances today are extraordinary in the extreme. I am impressed with them for what they stand for as Cadets, but they took it to whole different level today. We are just scratching the surface with what they are capable of.  

We also got great effort today from Sarah Grodin and Allie Gibbs. They pushed Navy's fifth runner back to 11th and that put away the win. They both were pretty conservative early in the race and I wasn't sure if they had given up too much ground to catch back up. But they were on the move over the last mile and got up far enough to secure the race for us. Allie is still building up to her fitness from last fall and Sarah is just starting to figure out what it takes to be successful at this level. Sarah has made tremendous improvements this fall and I expect her to continue to take her racing to higher levels. They both did a nice job.

I would be remiss if I did not speak about what our captain Mika Andrews has meant to this team and her contribution to this win. I often talk to the team about the "captains posture".  They have to have great posture; figuratively and literally. That is Mika Andrews. She stands tall when the pressure is on. She takes on the responsibility to lead us through consistent performance and effort.  But most importantly, she communicates confidence and has a winning presence around the team. She has been our most consistent performer over the last four years and has been in our top five since she arrived as a plebe. At the 2017 Star Meet, she passed a Navy runner in the last 10m of the race to flip the score and give us the win. Last year at home she led us to victory as our number one runner.  Today, on a challenging course, she had a solid day, not a great day, but a solid day. And that is the thing about her, she is never very far away from being great and she is never out of the fight in a race. When it got really difficult out there, she stayed composed and kicked down a Navy runner in the last 400 meters. It takes that kind of "want to" to win this meet and Mika has done it multiple times in her career. She graduates having won the star meet three times in her career and back to back stars for the first time since 2009-2010. You have to go back 15 years to find a graduating class at Army that won three cross country stars.

The women feel pretty good about the outcome today but they know we have to get better if we want to be successful in our next race. We have just over three weeks to prepare for Air Force and Navy on "The Plain" in what will prove to be a once in a lifetime event. We have work to do."
2. Georgia Jones – 21:35.80
3. Helen Shearer – 21:40.80
6. Sophia Sandy – 22:00.50
7. Mika Andrews – 22:04.77
9. Sarah Grodin – 22:22.34
10. Alexandra Gibbs - 22:22.82