BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Lehigh welcomed home members of the 1992 women’s cross country team Saturday, as a luncheon was held to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of its Patriot League Championship, the first-ever Patriot League Championship captured by any Lehigh team.
The champions and their families were invited to return to campus for the event as part of a larger celebration of 40 years of women at Lehigh. The luncheon, held in the Varsity House on Goodman Campus, allowed former teammates the opportunity to reconnect with each other and meet current coaches and student-athletes before cheering on the current track and field team in the annual dual meet against Lafayette.
After a casual meet and greet, the women were introduced by their teammate Tanya Butensky Smargiassi ’92 and honored in speeches by university President Alice P. Gast, current cross country coach Debbie Utesch and Dean of Athletics Joe Sterrett before sitting down to lunch and sharing more memories and stories.
Smargiassi acknowledged all members of the team in attendance as well as the team’s head coach Patti O’Donnell, recounting fond memories of each and speaking of them not just as teammates, but as friends and family.
“You are inspirational to us,” said Gast to those assembled. “You are an example of how true student-athletes succeed, through hard work and determination.”
The 1992 championship won by the women was the first Patriot League championship won by any Lehigh team, though the Mountain Hawks have added 41 since in various sports on both the men’s and women’s sides.
Not only was the 1992 team successful on the course, but in the classroom as well as all of the women on the team held a GPA over 3.0.
O’Donnell still remembers the feeling on Championship Day at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y.
“It was an indescribable feeling,” said O’Donnell. “We knew it was going to be close and all of a sudden they started grouping up, sprinting and passing other runners. Watching their faces when I told them they had won was amazing. It was a great feeling. We were also so happy to have set a standard for the school so the rest of the sports could say, ‘yea, we can win too.”
The event was organized by the Lehigh Sports Partnership, a joint outreach initiative of the university’s Alumni Relations department and Lehigh Athletics to reunite former teammates and to reconnect them to Lehigh Sports and the University as a whole.
It was a day of celebration, not only of past accomplishments, but also the reconnection of a generation to the cross country and track and field family.
“We wanted to reconnect the women, to connect a few generations of cross country runners, and really grow our track and field family,” said Utesch.
“Deb and Matt [Utesch] - the current cross country and track and field coaches - have been so inclusive, it’s great to be back,” said O’Donnell. “This is going to be the start of big things to come.”
It was apparent that all of the women were happy to be back, and enjoyed the reconnection with their teammates.
“The thing that sticks out most in my mind is the team spirit and the camaraderie,” said Deirdre Dalpiazz Bishop ‘93. “The closeness we shared was my favorite part. It’s a great honor; it was a great accomplishment. We had a great coach and a lot of hardworking people on the team.”
“It’s so nice of them to do this; I feel humbled to be a part of this,” said Dara Seybold ‘96. “To be able to reconnect with my teammates has been so wonderful.”
Megan Eves ’93 and Grethen Repasky ’94 both live abroad – England and Finland, respectively – but thanks to technology, the two women were on a video chat which was projected onto a big screen in the room.
Ayres Boswell-Mills ’89 was also in attendance as she was teammates with a lot of the members from the 1992 team. Boswell-Mills won the women’s 3.1-mile race at the 1989 Cross Country East Coast Conference Championship and is credited for paving the way for women’s cross country at Lehigh.
“Their legacy is tremendous, and it was neat to see our seniors see the memories come to life and to listen to their presentations and what Lehigh meant to them,” said Utesch. “It was a great opportunity, and they had a real recipe for success for student-athletes at Lehigh.”
“It’s so great to have these women back; they’re an inspiration to all of us,” said President Gast. “They’ve done so many things in their lives since they graduated, which I think is always an inspiration to current students. They’re very accomplished women and very impressive. The 40 years of women gives us a chance to look at all of the wonderful and accomplished women who have graduated from Lehigh.”