W&M XC Part 4: Elevating the Women to the National Stage
It was fall of 1991 when Cathy Stanmeyer found herself getting into her car in Charlottesville, Virginia. She had just finished a doctor’s visit and had been diagnosed with compartment syndrome. She would require a fasciotomy in order to release the pressure that had caused her excruciating shin pain for the last several years. She still had indoor and outdoor track eligibility left and had begun pursuing a graduate degree at William & Mary. She knew this diagnosis was effectively ending her collegiate career.
When you talk to Cathy about that experience, you cannot ignore the sense of relief that she must have felt in terms of finally knowing what had been the root cause of her injuries. Yet, after three years of the same injury occurring in a cyclical fashion, you can also feel her overwhelming frustration in her medical condition not being resolved earlier in her career. Yet, the truth is that even with this difficult ending for Cathy, her impact on the William & Mary Women’s program was substantial. Cathy’s journey, in conjunction with her teammate Janice Brown’s journey, would be the culmination of a three year period over which the William & Mary Women’s program evolved dramatically to a national level.
In order for a program to catch on fire, there is a key moment, perhaps the hiring of a head coach. Sometimes, the critical person who drives that initial jump is a student-athlete. And, in some cases, that student-athlete did not intend to take on that role but played it nonetheless. In the case of the women’s program of the late 1980s, that pioneer distance athlete was Cathy Stanmeyer. Cathy trained very hard running upwards of 80 miles per week, which is probably what led to her injuries, but what also created a work ethic that helped rise the level of the women’s team and the program.
Cathy grew up in Great Falls, Virginia, and ran for Langley High School in Fairfax County, (in Northern Virginia) and was deep with talent in the late 1980s. Northern Virginia was deep too. In the years Cathy ran there, over 30 women student-athletes would go on to run at Division I programs. At Langley, Cathy would train with Erin Keogh, two-time high school national champion. Upon graduation, Cathy chose to attend Duke University, in part because of her confidence in their coaching staff.
However, Duke had only started their women’s program several years earlier and there were limited scholarships available for the women. Although Cathy ran #1 on the Duke cross country team for a time and had success at the ACC conference level in track, she was not receiving scholarship money. Family finances meant she would need to transfer out. An ACC policy on in-conference transfers precluded any athlete from transferring to another in-conference school without sitting out a year, and Cathy did not want to wait. So to return to Virginia, the University of Virginia was out. In hindsight, Cathy thinks that she should have expanded her reach to look outside of Virginia to see if she could have received scholarship support. She chose to transfer to William & Mary because she would have affordable tuition as an in-state student and could continue to pursue a degree at a strong academic institution.
During her time at W&M, Cathy would fight injuries that would go unresolved throughout her career. How did the problems manifest themselves and how would they impact her career? She could identify the symptoms but not the cause. She would train, increase mileage, spend 4-5 months healthy, then experience severe pains in her legs and have to reduce mileage or stop altogether. The pain would subside with time off, she would begin to train in earnest, and the cycle would begin again all over again. In her years at W&M, Cathy never had an entire year when she was fully healthy. The problem was consistently diagnosed as shin splints or tendinitis. Yet through all of it, Cathy would become one of the strongest runners in our program as it transitioned to a national level.
On a wet course in Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT, Cathy was 23rd at the ECAC Championships, which at the time included two NCAA qualifying regions, and was named All-East as a result. Unfortunately, Cathy’s 23rd place was one spot and one second out of making Nationals as an at-large individual. Janice Brown finished 49th in a tight pack with Kristi LaCourse, Katie McCullough, and Megan Holden. W&M finished 8th overall with 242 points.
Cathy’s senior year was largely a reflection of her journey as she helped pull the team to the NCAA Championships. She started the year by breaking her own course record at the ODU Invitational. A week later, she posted a solid win at the Wake Forest Invitational, the race she recalls was one of her proudest moments, as she defeated All-Americans from Georgetown and Dartmouth in the process. Unfortunately for her personal goals, Cathy’s better races were on either side of NCAAs. At the ECAC meet she placed 15th and led the W&M women in qualifying for their first ever NCAAs. However, a cold and rainy day would take a toll. Cathy earned All-East honors and had been the #1 runner all year, but she developed bronchitis following the ECAC meet and raced while she was sick at Nationals, finishing 73rd. Janice Brown finished her season on an incredibly strong note by finishing 45th at Nationals, just a few places from being All American.
A week later, at the TAC US National Cross Country Champs, Cathy was feeling better and ran to her potential, finishing significantly higher in the US overall championship than she had in the college one. But the shin pain was never far away and by that winter, she was again taking time off and decided to red-shirt her senior indoor and outdoor track seasons. She graduated in the spring of 1991 with many awards, including Academic All-American, Phi Beta Kappa, and the Martha Barksdale Award, but her goal of an individual All-American award eluded her.
But there was another runner within that generation who would make the breakthrough to an All-American status. In the fall of 1988, Janice Brown arrived at the College to start making her mark on the W&M women’s program.