WALLA WALLA - Running in a field of nearly 280 runners, Whitman College junior Emilie Gilbert ran under 23 minutes and placed 184th in Saturday's NCAA Division III National Cross Country Championships in Winneconne, Wisc.
Gilbert, making her second appearance in three years at nationals, ran the 6,000-meter course on the Lake Breeze Golf Course in 22:53.25.
While courses and weather conditions vary from year to year, Gilbert is only the third Whitman woman to finish under 23 minutes at the national championships.
Her time on Saturday was more than 70 seconds faster than when she placed 234th at the national finals two years ago at the end of her first college season.
"If I had told Emily before the race today that she was going to run the time she did, she would have jumped for joy," Whitman coach Scott Shields said. "She really wanted to finish higher, but she still ran a great race and had a great season."
Navigating through such a big group of runners is difficult at best and a nightmare at worst, Shields said. Saturday's race had to be restarted after a few runners fell early in the race and created a chain reaction of falling and pushing athletes.
"This is a great event, but it can be hard on the runners at times to keep their focus because of the large number of runners and spectators," Shields said. "I think Emily had a little trouble with that today, but she's a great competitor and she's more motivated than ever to try to get back to nationals next season."
Temperatures at race time were in the low 40s with little wind and no moisture.
The only other Whitman runners to finish under 23 minutes at nationals were Kristen Ballinger, who did it twice - placing 107th in 22:33.5 in 2008 at her best finish - and Laura Matsen, who finished ninth in 2003 in 22:14.7.
Gilbert qualified for nationals this year by placing 16th at the West Region finals a week ago in Claremont, Calif.
She and two teammates, senior Mollee Huisinga and first-year runner Caitlin Iglehart, earned all-region honors. Junior Oliver Wood, running his first season of cross country, just missed all-region honors on the men's side.
Chiara Del Piccolo, running for Williams College, won the women's race on Saturday in 20:52.08.
Christy Cazzola gave Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the host school, a second-place finish with a time of 20:57.70.
Washington University (St. Louis) won the women's national title with 70 place points for its top five runners. Middlebury (111) was second and Williams (153) third. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps was fourth with 223 points.