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D’Agostino Hoping For History At NCAAs

The Dartmouth junior hoping to become first NCAA champion from the Ivy League.

The Dartmouth junior hoping to become first NCAA champion from the Ivy League. 

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

LOUISVILLE, KY — When the 255 women line up for tomorrow’s NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships at E.P. ‘Tom’ Sawyer State Park here, only one will wear the green kit of Dartmouth College. Her long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, 20 year-old junior Abbey D’Agostino won’t have help from any teammates during the 6-kilometer event, but she’ll also be free to run her own race and possibly make history: No Ivy League athlete has ever won this event in it’s 32-year history.

What sounds like a longshot on paper just might become reality. D’Agostino, who’s mother Donna ran track and cross country in college, became the first NCAA national track champion from Dartmouth in 38 years when she won the 5,000m crown last June at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.

But, what seemed like the end of a great season was only a stepping stone. D’Agostino went on to make the finals in the 5,000 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene last June and finished fifth in a dramatic sprint finish in a personal best 15:19.98. She missed an Olympic team spot by just 19/100ths of a second.

“Being at the Trials –I just keep saying this– was a whole other world,” D’Agostino told Race Results Weekly in an exclusive interview here today. “The biggest thing that came out if it was what sort of mental state it takes for me to succeed at a level like that.”

But being a virtual unknown helped D’Agostino, a psychology major from Topsfield, Mass. She was one of just one of five collegiate athletes in that contest, and expectations were low: she’d only won one important race so far in her career.

“There wasn’t a ton of pressure, and that obviously helped,” D’Agostino admitted. “The competition didn’t intimidate me; I was just so thankful to be there.”

Unlike her key rival in tomorrow’s race here, the University of Oregon’s Jordan Hasay, D’Agostino began her collegiate career with no fanfare. Recruited by a previous coach, she didn’t meet current coach Mark Coogan, an Olympic marathoner in 1996, until she arrived at Dartmouth (they met the first day of practice). Coogan said he recognized D’Agostino’s talent quickly.

“We’ve had a good relationship from day one,” said Coogan. “Abbey’s a special runner; there’s no doubt about it.  She’d be successful with anybody. But, I think we do hit it off very well.”

Coogan first saw the chance for D’Agostino to win regional titles, but quickly realized she was destined for bigger things. Last year, her first under Coogan, she progressed quickly throughout the track season and finished third at the 2011 NCAA Championships at 5,000m. She backed-up that performance up with a third place finish at these championships last year, beaten only by Villanova’s Sheila Reid and Hasay. Coogan said that his biggest contribution comes from the fact that he has competed at the highest levels in the sport and can provide D’Agostino with insights other coaches wouldn’t have.

“I think the thing I really help her best with, like when we go to NCAA’s or Olympic Trials, is I’ve done it,” Coogan said. “I’ve helped her realize that the best runners are just normal people. They put their shorts on the same way. They’re no different, and there’s no reason to be intimidated.”

Coming into tomorrow’s meet, D’Agostino has raced a light schedule this fall. She skipped the Heptagonal Championships on October 27 (essentially the Ivy League meet) to rest a sore hip flexor, then won her regional meet on November 9, in a controlled effort. Coogan said that was important to protect her hip, especially given the poor condition of the course in Madison, Conn.

“The day before when we jogged the course it was a disaster, with snow and rain and wet,” Coogan said. “When were talking about the race we had the attitude, just win. Just do what you have to do to win. Don’t make a big statement.”

Given D’Agostino’s track credentials, the one-loop course here could play to her favor. Florida State coach Karen Harvey called it “lightning fast” at a press conference here today. That fit’s D’Agostino’s assessment as she is expecting a fast race.

“Mark and I were talking about this,” she said. “In general, it’s pretty honest. You really have to be ready for anything. You have to stay with that top group and not let any gaps form.”

D’Agostino said she is proud to represent the Ivy League, along with the Harvard women’s squad which qualified as a team. A true student-athlete (there are no pure athletic scholarships in the Ivy League) D’Agostino said there is no reason that an athlete from the Ivy League can’t win.

“We’re all the same at that line,” she said. “It just depends on who wants it the most.”