NORTH ANDOVER — Merrimack College’s cross country team is a focused group. So focused, in fact, that when the team qualified for the NCAA championships two weeks ago by placing third in the regionals, the team didn’t have a clue.
“We finished the race and our group was just getting ready to change our shoes and go get into our cool-down,” said Londonderry’s Brianna Devereaux, a senior. “Then all of a sudden we heard screaming and a bunch of blue jackets were running towards us and it was our girls; the girls who didn’t race still came down to support us. They were screaming and going crazy and at first we were sort of like, ‘Really? We’re in?’ It was definitely a surreal moment and we were all ecstatic.”
It’s been a long road for the Warriors, who will race at the Division 2 NCAA championships for the first time in program history this weekend in Spokane, Wash.
The program’s rise through the ranks has all been supervised by head coach and Methuen native Chris Cameron, who is the only coach the program has ever had. He’s returning to the NCAA championships for the first time since 1989, when he competed as a runner at Clemson University.
Merrimack’s biggest strength has been in its numbers, often finishing with a pack of girls near the same time in order to rack up points against the opposition.
“People look at cross country and they think it’s an individual sport and it’s all about how you finish,” Devereaux said. “But with us all year it’s always been about the team and racing in a pack. It keeps everyone together, on the same page and you know that you’re pacing yourself. We might have a few girls out in front who finish ahead sometimes, but we’re always scoring a big number of points as a pack. Racing like that has brought us here.”