Champagne qualifies for national championship race

NEW YORK CITY Seton Catholics Mary Kate Champagne, who holds most of the Section 7 distance records for high school girls and is a three-time state champion, met her number one goal for her high school cross country career last Saturday at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City when she placed third in the Northeast Regional Footlocker Cross Country Championships. The top 10 finishers in four regions Northeast, South, West and Midwest earn an all-expenses-paid trip to San Diego, Calif., for the Footlocker National Cross Country Championships, the premier national championship of high school sports. It has been my goal throughout high school to qualify for this race, Mary Kate commented. It was a big goal, with the most talented runners from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C., all racing to qualify out of the Northeast region. Mary Kate is the first female from Section 7 to qualify for the national championship in its 29-year history. Perus Josh McDougal is the only other athlete to do so, qualifying in 2003. This was Mary Kates third and final attempt at qualifying. She placed 93rd as a sophomore, with a time of 19:38.9; 15th as a junior, with a time of 18:23.9; and this year she finished in a time of 17:44, just behind Pennsylvanias Neely Spence, and Massachusetts Emily Jones. It is this kind of progression that points to future success at the collegiate level. Mary Kates yearly improvements and success in running have caught the eye of Division 1 distance coaches across the nation. She has given her verbal commitment to accept a full scholarship to Providence College in Rhode Island next fall. Mary Kates success in running is no surprise to those familiar with her family. She has been doubly blessed with great running genes from both her parents. Her father, Dave Champagne, the managing director of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, did not start running until he was a student at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. He quickly became one of the top D-3 distance runners in the state and went on to race as a sponsored runner for Reebok for several years after college. Mary Kates mom, Kathy, a speech pathologist at Beekmantown Central School and the head track coach and assistant cross country coach at Seton, had an earlier start to running. She was a standout distance runner at St. Johns and went on to do well at the D-1 level, running for the University of New Hampshire. Her continued improvement eventually earned her a full scholarship there. She also ran as a sponsored runner for Reebok after college, and competed in the Olympic Marathon Trials in 1988. Mary Kate was born the next year. Mary Kate enjoyed soccer and basketball, but in her junior high years she decided she liked running the best. Her race attire last Saturday gave evidence of her running heritage. All three years she has raced at the Footlocker event in her mothers former St. Johns racing singlet, a green tank top with a white shamrock on it. With a free trip to the national competition in California on the line, Mary Kate planned her race day strategy carefully and executed it perfectly. I wanted to stay conservative in the beginning so I wouldnt get killed on the back hills, she said. When Seton coach Keith Bombard and her family and friends saw the green St. Johns singlet emerge from the wooded trails during last Saturdays race, they started cheering and screaming, knowing Mary Kates goal was about to be realized. She came out of the woods in 4th place with about a 600-meter stretch in an open field to the finish line. She picked up the pace as she approached the finish, passing the 3rd place runner and crossing the finish line with a grin. Mary Kates teammate and fourth cousin, Genna Hartung from Morrisonville, also had an outstanding performance. Genna finished 18th and will be in good position to qualify next year. Teammates Zach Zimmer, Seth Bombard and her younger brother, Mike Champagne, all raced well in the nonseeded freshman boys, senior boys and sophomore boys races, respectively. Ticonderogas Lee Berube, also a state champion, raced in the seeded race, as he chased his goal of qualifying for nationals. He just missed by a few positions for the second year in a row, but he took the disappointment like a true champion. His 13th place finish, combined with Hartungs 18th place finish, and Champagnes 3rd, make this the best showing Section 7 has ever had at the event. While the rest of the Section 7 distance runners have a small reprieve before beginning to train for indoor track, Mary Kate will continue with her cross country training in preparation for her final high school cross country race. Mary Kates hard work in preparing for the end of the season races, which included running about 60 miles a week, often in the cold or in rain or snow, will end with a fairy tale experience and a national championship race next Saturday, Dec. 8, at Balboa Parks Morley Field in San Diego. Mary Kate will be traveling out to California the end of next week with the other Northeast qualifiers who will make up the Northeast team. They will be spending several days and nights at the Hotel Del Coronado, a glamorous resort resembling a storybook castle rising up from the edge of the Pacific Ocean on the quaint island of Coronado. They will be surrounded by distance running legends who will serve as their chaperones, and will be treated like royalty. Despite all the glamour and festivities, Mary Kate intends to keep her head and do her best to represent Section 7 at the race. She is hoping to finish in the top 10 or 15 in the nation. Both of her parents are scrambling to make last minute arrangements to make the trip to San Diego. If all goes as planned, the three of them will celebrate Mary Kates final high school cross country race and Kathys birthday on Dec. 8 in San Diego. Mary Kate is full of anticipation for the coming trip and race and she is full of thankfulness to all those who have helped her attain her goal. I would like to thank my family and my teammates, especially Genna, she said. Thank you to everyone who has helped me develop as a person and a runner.

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