WAVERLY, Iowa - Whitman College senior Kristen Ballinger wrapped up her college running career by placing 139th in a huge and highly competitive field at Saturday's NCAA Division III National Cross Country Championships.
Ballinger, making her third straight appearance at the national finals, finished the 6,000-meter course in 22:44.3.
Her time was nearly 70 seconds faster than when she placed 133rd at last year's national championships, which were held in Cleveland, Ohio.
"Kristen was having a great race through the first two or three miles," Whitman coach Scott Shields said. "She started to kick it into high gear at the three-mile mark, which is what we expected because she's normally a great finisher."
With 600 to 800 meters left in the race, however, a "painful side cramp really slowed her down," Shields added. "We're guessing it cost her at least 15-20 seconds. The side cramp is all that kept her from breaking into the top 100."
Temperatures for Saturday's race were in the 30s under mostly sunny and breezy conditions.
"Overall it was a great event today," Shields said. "This was probably one of the fastest national championship races they've had in a long, long time."
Wendy Pavlus, a senior at St. Lawrence, won the race in 20:49.3. Jennifer Gossels, a sophomore at Williams, was second in 21:00.8 with St. Norbert senior Jenny Scherer taking third in 21:08.9.
Ballinger was one of seven runners from the NCAA D-III West Region, which represents schools in the Northwest, California and Colorado, who qualified as individuals for Saturday's race.
She finished with the seventh-best time among Northwest Conference runners.
"Kristen was happy with her race today, especially for the first three miles," Shields said. "She's a little disappointed because the cramp kept her from finishing as strong as she wanted.
"But Kristen has had a fantastic career at Whitman," Shields said. "The best way to go out as a senior is by running at nationals."
A total of 279 runners and 32 full teams competed in the race, which was hosted by Wartburg College.
Middlebury won the team title with 185 place points for its top five runners.
Missouri's Washington University was second with 193 points while MIT edged Wisconsin-Eau Claire 214 to 218 for the third spot.
Ballinger ran at nationals last year when Whitman qualified its entire women's team.
She competed as an individual as a sophomore and made her best showing that season, placing 107th in 22:33.35 on a course in Hanover, Ind.