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Globe Northwest Sports notebook

Arlington's Wheatley races to first in Wesleyan Invitational

Arlington's Liz Wheatley won the Wesleyan Invitational Arlington's Liz Wheatley won the Wesleyan Invitational (Steve McLaughlin Photography)
By John Vellante
October 12, 2008
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Liz Wheatley recalls her cross-country races as a freshman and sophomore at Wesleyan University as uneventful. The performances her junior year were, she said, "pretty horrible."

All the bad memories of the past three years, though, were wiped away last weekend when she won the Wesleyan Invitational, traversing the 5-kilometer course in 19 minutes, 28 seconds to lift her team to a third-place finish.

The Arlington High graduate was honored as the Performer of the Week by the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).

"She was a kid who came here never having run cross-country in high school," said Wesleyan coach John Crooke, explaining the uneventful first two years of Wheatley's career. "Then she had some physical ailments her junior year. But she had a breakout spring, running the 1,500 and 3,000, so I expected good things this fall."

The physical ailments: tendinitis of the knee and Lyme disease all but wiped out her cross-country season last fall.

"I ran just a few races," Wheatley said, "and my times were pretty horrible. My knee was sore and I was tired all the time and my energy was sapped. Then I got tested and the diagnosis was that I had Lyme disease. So I stopped running and rested with the expectation that I would be OK to run in the spring. Right now, I'm probably in the best shape physically I've been in a long time."

And that's just fine with Crooke, who feels, with a healthy Wheatley and junior Ravenna Neville, his cocaptains, he now has the one-two punch to lift Wesleyan into the hunt for conference and regional titles.

"[Wheatley's] a hard-working individual and as long as she stays healthy, I feel she will do really well," said Crooke. "Her workouts have been very good and she is great shape."

Tufts junior Jesse Faller (inset, right) of Burlington, like Wheatley, also won for the first time in his collegiate career when he topped the field in the 8K Codfish Bowl at Franklin Park in Boston. And, again like Wheatley, was the NESCAC Performer of the Week after his time of 25:42 was best among 155 competitors.

Unlike Wheatley, however, he has had an All-American career, earning the distinction when he finished 18th at the NCAA Division 3 Championships last year in Minnesota.

"He's the type of runner I have no idea about on what his upper limit is," said Tufts coach Ethan Barron. "You can ask me about a lot of the guys on this team and I think I could probably tell you what their ceiling is, but with Jesse I can't. I just don't see an immediate ceiling. I don't think any time would shock me. He has the potential to do some real amazing things."

Recording his first win was not surprising, said Faller, because "there are so many people in a cross-country race." He called the win "surprising and exciting."

"My expectation going in was to go out conservatively, see where I was on the course, and to have a good time," he said. "Halfway through I was at a steady pace and as a lot of the leaders slowed down, I found myself moving closer to the front. I finally got the lead and ran the last mile in first place.

A 2006 Globe All-Scholastic at Burlington, Faller said, "I will be running faster in the future. I think I have a lot of potential and I don't believe I've lived up to it right now. I do expect to keep improving."

Hanefeld is on top
Kirk Hanefeld of Acton finally broke through on the national stage when he birdied four of the last five holes to capture the Senior PGA Professional National Championship last weekend at Toscana Country Club in Indian Wells, Calif.

His final round 4-under 68, to go with three straight rounds of 70, left him at 278, four strokes ahead of runners-up Jon Fiedler and John Aubrey. He earned $20,000 and qualified for the Senior PGA Championship next May in Cleveland.

"I played well all week, but it showed near the end and I finished well," said the 52-year-old Hanefeld, the former director of golf at the International in Bolton.

While the win was significant, "it's certainly small compared to the week-in and week-out opportunities on the Champions Tour," he said.

Hanefeld does not have his Champions Tour card, but has earned veteran qualifying status; he can play in a Monday or Tuesday qualifier to make the official field for that week's tournament. He has played in nine Champions Tour events and has finished from a low of tied for 59th in the Wal-Mart First Tee Open to a high of tied for fifth in the principal Charity Classic. His $166,482 in earnings is 69th on the money list. If he doesn't win one of the remaining three Champions Tour events, Hanefeld will compete in the final stage of qualifying school next month, where a top five finish will earn him exempt status.

Around and about
Merrimack freshman quarterback J.D. Suozzo of Everett and senior defensive back Mike O'Brien of Marlborough copped top Northeast-10 honors for their play in the Warriors 31-28 win over Pace. Suozzo was the player and freshman of the week after throwing for 245 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 59 yards and a touchdown in his first collegiate game. O'Brien was top dog on defense with two interceptions, including one late in the game to seal the win. . . . Freshman fullback Matt Welch of Woburn had a touchdown as Bentley rallied from a 19-0 deficit to beat Assumption, 22-19. Defensively, the Falcons received superb efforts from linebackers Matt Zahoruiko and Mike Mucci, both of North Andover, who combined for 20 tackles

Sports information or ideas may be sent to JohnPVel@aol.com.

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