Senior Alicia Belko became just the third Vulcans student-athlete in program history — but the second in two years — to win the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) women’s cross country championship.
Teammate and fellow senior Alyson Pierce finished second at the Nov. 3 event, which consisted of 175 runners and was contested on a wet and muddy 6-kilometer course at Edinboro University.
Belko, who is from Hainesport, N.J., won the race by 33 seconds with a time of 23 minutes, 20 seconds. She joins Julie Friend (2017) and Melissa Brooks (1980) as Cal U’s PSAC women’s cross country individual champions.
During the 2018 regular season’s five races, Belko won three individual titles and added a runner-up and third-place finish.
Belko transferred to Cal U from Stockton (N.J.) University, where she finished second overall at the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championships, was a two-time national qualifier and was also a field hockey standout.
She is on track to earn her master’s degree next month in exercise science: performance enhancement and injury prevention and aspires to be a coach.
“Her way of operating and her attitude is significant — Alicia fit right in from the moment she came here,” said Daniel Caulfield, Cal U’s women’s and men’s cross country and track and field head coach. “She’s extremely intelligent, a talented team player and a quality person who will be an excellent coach.”
Pierce, who is from West Middlesex, Pa., posted a time of 23:53 and used a late surge to edge a Seton Hill runner for second place by just one second.
At the 2017 league meet, Pierce placed third on the team and finished 26th overall. As a freshman in 2015, she helped the Vulcans win the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional team championship.
“Alyson has always come on strong at the end of the year, which is always our goal, because if you want to make nationals you have to do it at the regional meet,” Caulfield said.
Pierce is a two-time U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic selection.
Belko and Pierce both received All-PSAC First-Team laurels after the race, and Belko was also named Most Outstanding Runner of the league championships. Pierce earned All-PSAC honors for a consecutive year; she earned second-team status in 2017.
The Cal U duo’s impressive performance enabled the Vulcans to finish in third-place at the PSAC race and tie the 1980 team for the highest team finish in program history. The Vulcans were seeded sixth.
Rounding out Cal U’s team score were sophomore Megan Bateman (28th), freshman Saralynn Vance (36th) and sophomore Shaye Beckett (44th). Junior Shae Grinnell (48th) and senior Jaclyn Reinbold (62nd) also competed and completed the course.
“This was one of our best team performances from not only a standpoint of placing but just from a determination to get the job done,” Caulfield said. “Everyone was on the same page and this showing bodes well for the tradition that’s being established.”
The Vulcans return to action at the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Championships on Nov. 17. The event will be hosted by Slippery Rock at the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park in Pittsburgh.
Cal U will hope to qualify for the NCAA II National Championships as a team for the third time in the past four years.
“That’s been our goal all year, and we’re excited to sort of be in that position as we prepare for the regional,” Caulfield said. “When you work as hard and have the desire as these ladies do, there’s a natural confidence regardless of the conditions, and they will be ready for the challenge.”