Throwback Thursday: This day in 1978, cross country dominates the course

By Erin Kelly, Senior Sports Editor

Karin Von Berg ’81 poses with her mentor John Estle after capturing 15th place in the Bonne Bell 10,000-meter race in Boston. (The Middlebury Campus’ October 19, 1978 edition)

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we revisit two spectacular weekend performances by the women’s cross country team, led by Middlebury Hall of Fame inductee Karin Von Berg ’81. Not only did Von Berg start off with a 15th place finish in the Bonne Bell 10,000-meter mini marathon on Oct. 9, she also led the Panthers to victory at the Oct. 14 Cross Country NESCAC Championships.

Because she found Vermont to be “lacking in competition,” Von Berg traveled to Boston to compete in the Bonne Bell race against a field of 4,500 women from schools nationwide. North Carolina State’s star runner Joan Benoit ultimately took the gold, setting a road race world record with a time of 33:15. Although Von Berg ran with the top four finishers for the first two and a half miles, she eventually dropped back during the middle of the race. Most notably, she was passed by Duke University’s Ellison Groodall, who almost won the 1977 NCAA Cross Country Championships, and Marth Cooksey, who had the third-fastest marathon time of 1978. Von Berg herself crossed the finish line in an impressive 15th place with a time of 35:39.

Only one week later, at the NESCAC Championships, Von Berg took the lead from the very beginning and never looked back. She easily captured the NESCAC title with a 5K time of 20:50, setting a new course record and finishing an entire one minute and 19 seconds ahead of her teammate Alice Tower ’81, who took the silver medal. Fellow Panthers Tara McMenamy ’82 and Anne Leggett ’81 finished in 6th and 11th place, respectively.

According to the Oct. 19, 1978 edition of The Middlebury Campus, “although the NESCAC meet is not scored by teams, the Panthers showed that they were far and away the strongest squad in the conference” and captured the unofficial conference gold.

Von Berg later went on to win the 1979 Friehoffer’s National AAU 10K Championship, beating nearly 600 competitors and finishing with a personal best time of 34:26. She also won the 1,500- and 5,000-meter races at the 1979 NESCAC Track Championships, and her time of 4:28.9 in the 1,500 still stands as the current school and NESCAC meet record.