STANDISH, Maine – Kaneen Gomez-Hixson ran into history Saturday.
The University of Saint Joseph junior, from Wethersfield, was the first across the tape and became the Great Northeast Athletic Conference women's cross-country champion at the annual conference meet at St. Joseph's College.
Gomez-Hixson was the only runner in the field of 115 to break the 20-minute mark on the 5K course and finished in 19:59. Her nearest competitor, Emmanuel College freshman Margaret McCaffrey, was nine seconds behind. Third-place finisher Kara McLean a senior from Simmons, finished in 20:27 and was the only other runner within 30 seconds of Gomez-Hixson.
"She worked extremely hard all through the summer and all season," USJ coach Emily MacEwen said. "You could see her continue to improve every week in her times and it definitely paid off. It was an amazing experience just watching. All her teammates were super excited."
Gomez-Hixson and McCaffrey ran together up front for most of the race. Like she did in the USJ Invitational last month among other meets, Gomez-Hixson had an explosive finishing kick left and separated herself from McCaffrey and the rest of the field over the final 200 yards.
"I worked really hard toward this and it's been a goal," Gomez-Hixson said. "To come in first at the GNAC Meet, because it's such a big race, is very exciting."
It's a goal of many competitors to win, but did she think she could actually do it?
"Before a race, I try not to put that in my head," she said. "I just wanted to do my best and push myself; run faster as the race went on and not slow down the entire race. I didn't think about winning and it worked out."
Mia Tompkins (Meriden, Conn.) was the second Blue Jay across the line. Her time of 21:25 was good for 16th place overall and eighth among first-year runners. USJ got a solid showing throughout the top five and it allowed the Blue Jays to finish sixth, one spot ahead of last year's finish at the conference meet. Mary Anderson (Granby, Conn.) was 45th, Alyssa Vereneau (Newington, Conn.) 46th and Madison Boyce (East Hampton, Conn.) was 54th as USJ put its five scorers all in the top half of the field.
Emmanuel (49 points) was the team champion, with Simmons (64) second and Johnson & Wales finished third (75). Norwich was fourth at 80 and St. Joseph's of Maine (130) just edged USJ (134) for fifth.
"I'm very happy with it," MacEwen said. "I could never be disappointed because they put their hearts and souls into the race. They gave it their all and I can't ask for anything more."