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KOEPPEL'S CALL WAS WORTH THE WAIT

The race was great. The wait was excruciating.

After placing an impressive ninth at the Northeast Regional Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Amherst native and University at Buffalo senior Jenny Koeppel had to wait until late Sunday to learn if she would qualify for nationals.

When the call finally came, Koeppel learned she had indeed received an at-large bid to the 2004 NCAA Women's Cross Country National Championship on Monday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind.

"Oh, it's hit me," Koeppel said. "I'm so excited. It was very nerve-racking after the race and the next day. . . . I was waiting on the edge thinking, 'Am I going to make it? Am I going to make it?' But hard work paid off."

The hard work for this season dates back to the summer, when she started her preseason workouts. The training helped her turn in one of the best women's cross country seasons in UB Division I history. In her eight meets of the fall, she placed first in four of them and second in one.

"It's always been an ultimate goal," she said. "You always think, 'I want to go to nationals. That would be amazing.' But really throughout the season you just look at each race. Each race is a challenge in itself, and you have to get geared up for that."

First, she geared up for the Mid-American Conference Championships, where she won the title by completing the 5K Ottawa Park Golf Course in Toledo, Ohio, in 17:51.7.

That set her up for this past weekend's regional race at a muddy, wet and cold course at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

"Van Cortlandt is a challenging course, and it's always been a big mental block for me," Koeppel said. "It's always been one of the toughest courses that I've run. Going in there, I had to get over that big mental block."

Koeppel is the first UB woman and third Bulls runner to compete in the NCAA Division I Championship. Jeremie Slick ran in 2001, finishing 91st overall. Ed Fuchs ran in three championship races from 1968 to '70 in what was known as the NCAA's University Division, the forerunner of today's Division I classification. The Bulls did send women's runners to the NCAA Division III Championships during the 1980s, with the best finish coming in 1985 when Margaret Gehring finished 15th overall to gain All-American status.

Around campus

Byran Worosz is the all-time leader in saves for the Canisius hockey team. The senior set the mark with 34 saves against Sacred Heart on Friday to pass former Griff Derek Slater, who held the previous record with 2,100 stops. Worosz entered the season with 1,904 saves, including a career-high 890 his sophomore season. With 17 saves against Sacred Heart on Saturday, his total is 2,018.

Thanks to the help of four area players, the Geneseo men's soccer team advanced to the Division III Sweet 16. Senior forward David Fink (North Tonawanda) has four goals and one assist while freshman midfielder Patrick Occhiuto (Williamsville East) has a goal and assist. Also on the team are sophomore defender Chris Billoni (St. Joe's) and freshman defender Steve Contino (St. Joe's). The Knights will play Wheaton on Saturday at St. Lawrence University.

In men's soccer honors, University at Buffalo senior Cheick Diarra was named to the All-Mid-American Conference Second Team. At Canisius, Chris Robey (Tonawanda) and Fabien Lewis were named second-team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Brian Brehm (Lancaster) was named the men's soccer Scholar Athlete of the Year. The sophomore midfielder started all 17 games for the Griffs, led the team in scoring with 10 points and carries a 3.74 grade-point average in finance.

Buffalo State junior quarterback Mike Mikolaichik earned District I College Division All-Academic First Team honors. He started all nine games for the Bengals, passing for 1,364 yards and seven touchdowns while posting a 3.23 grade-point average in elementary education.

In Pittsburgh's 41-38 win at Notre Dame on Saturday, the Panthers' first touchdown came on a 3-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Derek Kinder, a former All-Western New York star from Albion.
e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com