Two years ago, Sarah Berger couldn’t have imagined what it was like to run in a cross country race, let alone win one.
On Saturday, she won the biggest race of her collegiate career.
Despite a heavy downpour and muddy terrain, the Wadsworth native and Grand Valley State graduate student overcame both to capture the Division II national championship and help the Lakers to the title at Clarion University in Pittsburgh.
For Berger, it was the perfect finish to her stellar collegiate career.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “Running cross country is something that I never thought I would be doing at all, so to have joined the sport, and then cap it off this way is more than I could ever ask for. And to end my career with a team title as well is a dream I never knew I had until recently that came true.”
Berger, who spent her first four years at Walsh University as as soccer and track athlete, joined the sport two years ago and was the national runner-up last fall.
With one more season of cross country eligibility, Berger decided to join Grand Valley after transferring to the school to take part in its Physician Assistant Studies Program.
It was far from an easy Saturday. The inclement weather and course conditions were only some of the issues she had to deal with. The men’s 10K race made the muddy course choppy.
Berger, however, used everything she had to pick off Adams State’s Eilish Flanagan and the University of Mary’s Emily Roberts to win in 22:07.7. Berger’s time was approximately 1½ seconds slower than her second-place 20:52.1 of a year ago.
“The conditions were pretty gnarly,” Berger said. “The course was almost completely like ankle deep mud, it was pouring rain and it was really hilly. The entire race was just a complete grind. We went into the race knowing that we were just going to have to compete and be ready for anything.
“It was honestly the most painful thing I’ve ever done, and it took a lot of heart from not only myself, but my teammates, coaches, the fans, friends and family to pull out a victory.”
The Lakers won their sixth national championship. The individual title was Berger’s second after winning the 1,500-meter run on the outdoor track last season.
In all, the former Grizzly standout likely finished her career with an eye-popping 10 first-team All-American honors in cross country and track.
While unsure if she will compete unattached this track season — she would not be eligible for a national title — Berger couldn’t have asked for a better way to end her collegiate career.
“It’s infinitely more special to win as a team as well,” she said. “Finding out we won and celebrating after we all crossed the line was something I will never forget. We were all just screaming and crying and hugging each other.
“It made it even sweeter because we weren’t even in the top three of the rankings going into the race. No one was even worried about us, so we felt a huge sense of pride and vindication because we always knew we could do it, and showing everyone else what we were made of was the cherry on top.”
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- Wadsworth alumna Sarah Berger wins national college track title
- Wadsworth alumna Sarah Berger receives All-America honors for eighth time
- Wadsworth alum Sarah Berger finishes second in nation in Division II cross country
- Senior runner Sarah Berger leads Wadsworth girls to 2nd straight title