Best in Show

VIRGINIASPORTSDOTCOM
VIRGINIASPORTSDOTCOM

VIRGINIASPORTSDOTCOM
By Chip Rogers, Athletics Media Relations

On Sept, 29, 2007, Virginia cross country All-American Emily Harrison ran away from the field at the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational, winning the 6K race by 18 seconds and blowing away a field of NCAA qualifiers and All-Americans. The triumph, which came after covering the course 30 seconds faster than her 2006 time over the same trails, was her second-consecutive victory in 2007 and kept her record umblemished on the season.

“It was a great run,” Harrison said. “I felt really strong and I was just pushing it. It was a great result from the work I had put in.”

For a former exhibitor of show dogs, it was Harrison’s turn to be considered “Best in Show.”

Before the fourth-year from Front Royal, Va., started hitting the trails and winning accolades for her running abilities, she was earning ribbons for her ability to raise and exhibit show dogs. Harrison handled English springer spaniels, even earning the opportunity to show at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club.

“I have always had a love for dogs,” Harrison said. “I enjoyed taking care of them and then preparing them for the shows.”

Early in high school, however, Harrison stopped taking the dogs out for a walk and just went for a run on her own as she started taking running more seriously. As a senior at Warren County High School, Harrison won the state title in cross country to go along with the 3200-meter title she won in 2002. As she started to look at colleges to pursue her running career, her heart was set on Virginia.

“It was a perfect fit for me,” Harrison said. “I wanted to go to a school with strong academics, and Virginia certainly had that. I also liked Coach (Jason) Dunn and knew what he had done with the program, and a bonus was that Virginia was not far from home. I visited and fell in love with it, and I know I made the right choice.”

Dunn and the rest of the Cavaliers also are glad she chose Virginia. In her first season, Harrison led the Hoos in every meet, including the ACC Championships where she finished ninth, earning All-ACC honors. Harrison went on to earn all-regional honors as the first rookie across the line in the NCAA Southeast Regional meet, qualifying for the NCAA Championships as a true freshman. Later that season, Harrison finished eighth at the 2005 USA Junior Cross Country Championships and third at the North America, Central America, and Caribbean Cross Country Championships where she led the USA to a team title.

“I learned how to manage my time while I was exhibiting dogs,” Harrison said. “It made the transition much easier for me as time became a luxury with running and certainly in college.”

Harrison has shown the ability to manage her time, between running distance regularly throughout the year for cross country and indoor and outdoor track as well as majoring in environmental science.

“Conservation ecology is another passion of mine,” Harrison said. “Environmental science was the closest major for me here, and it’s been great.”

Harrison’s running has been great too. Since that ACC run as a first-year in 2004, “it has really opened up for me,” said the All-American.

A three-time All-ACC and all-regional honoree, Harrison has finished in the top-six twice at regionals, taking fifth in 2005 and sixth in 2006. In addition, the Cavaliers have qualified for the NCAAs as a team in both Harrison’s second and third years.

At the NCAA cross country meet in 2005, the then-second-year missed All-America honors by a scant 1.8 seconds. She went on to earn All-East Regional honors on the track, and she currently sits in the top-10 in Virginia history in the indoor 3000m and 5000m runs as well as the 10K.

Harrison and fellow All-Americans Kara Scanlin and Katie Read each qualified for the NCAAs in the 10K in 2007 as the Cavaliers were the only team to qualify three women to the NCAAs in that event.

The bond between the women is just as strong away from the course. Harrison lives with a number of her teammates they are fast friends.

“We all have similar schedules, and that helps,” Harrison said. “We run together, and we can share our love of running.”

When Harrison isn’t running or doing school work, she finds time to give back to her first lovedogs. She volunteers for the SPCA, often walking dogs. And while her exhibiting dogs days are over, Harrison is still winning Best in Show awards, only this time for herself.