Columbia grad to run for Hawks

BY AARON COOPER | JUNE 19, 2009 7:21 AM

The Iowa women’s cross-country team will seek its fourth-consecutive NCAA appearance this fall, and it will have to do so after losing the top two runners from the NCAA-qualifying team that placed 24th last year.

Departing seniors Racheal Marchand and Sarah Perry, who finished fifth and 121st respectively in the NCAA meet, leave a void at the top. To soften the blow, the Hawkeyes will look toward Megan Lessard, a graduate from Columbia University who has one more year of eligibility left.

Lessard was an individual qualifier for the NCAA championships last year, finishing in 58th place with a time of 20:53.9 over the 6-kilometer course. Because of her experience and success, Iowa head coach Layne Anderson has high hopes for what she can do for his team.

“She is a tremendous talent,” he said. “She was an individual qualifier for the NCAA championships … out of a tough region, so if you can accomplish that individually, in my mind, she’s certainly somebody who could challenge for All-American honors.”

Lessard came to Iowa looking for a place to finish her final year of eligibility; she was also searching for a school that would allow her to pursue her interest in women’s health issues. Iowa turned out to be a perfect fit.

“When I realized I had an opportunity to run another year, I started looking into schools that had sent teams to the NCAA cross-country nationals,” she said. “I have a good friend from Cedar Rapids, and he highly recommended the University of Iowa. Turns out the school has a great public-health master’s program.”

However, there will be some adjustments. She’ll have a whole new set of teammates to fit in with after spending four years at Columbia. She also needs to adjust to the different atmosphere that Iowa offers, as opposed to New York.

“I will definitely miss running in Central Park, as opposed to trails,” Lessard said. “I’m a huge people watcher. The park is always full of runners, dog walkers, kids playing soccer, musicians, crazy exhibitionist types, you name it. I will miss that kind of infectious frenetic energy unique to New York.”

To help her with the transition, Lessard can look to the experience of Iowa senior Hannah Roeder, who finished third on the team (158th overall) at last year’s NCAA championships as a junior.

Roeder transferred from UCLA during her sophomore year and underwent a similar process to the one Lessard will encounter.

Roeder has enjoyed her time at Iowa and feels that Lessard’s experience will go similarly.

“She is a good runner, and coming from a school like Columbia, she will have a lot of experience to offer the team,” Roeder said. “I think that she will fit in right away.”

Some of the goals for the upcoming season, Anderson said, include improving upon the finishes in the Big Ten, regional, and national meets. With the incoming runners, led by Lessard, as well as a solid group of returning harriers, the Hawkeyes seem poised to do just that.

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