Skiba to Make Run at National Title

CLU junior earns trip to Division III Nationals

Melissa Skiba is set to run at her first Division III National Championships on Saturday morning.

Photo: Tracy Maple

There wasn't even the slightest bit of hesitation.

When Cal Lutheran distance coach Nicole Crawford asked Melissa Skiba her individual goal for the season, Skiba didn't need any time to think about her response.

Skiba wanted to finish in the top five at nationals.

The CLU junior has a great chance to accomplish that feat Saturday when she competes in the NCAA Division III Women's Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.

"I am really excited to race my first national race," said Skiba, an Oak Park High graduate. "It's an opportunity that I have wanted for a long time, and I am really looking forward to finally getting the experience."

Skiba is coming off her best performance of the season.

Last weekend at the West Regionals in Oregon, she finished in second place in a lifetime-best time of 20 minutes, 46.09 seconds.

Once she crossed the finish line on the 6-kilometer course, Skiba took a detour from her normally even-keeled demeanor.

"She was ecstatic," Crawford said. "To have her actually get really excited was great to see. She was able to step back and say, 'I had fun, and this was pretty darn good stuff today.' I think that positive attitude will help going forward with the belief in herself."

Skiba finished second at regionals to La Verne's Lenore Moreno (20:40.24), who has been her main competitor all season in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

They are two of the top runners in the nation, and are both expected to contend for the NCAA title.

"It's nice to have someone out there pushing the pace," Skiba said. "It's a good gauge for me to work off of her and know where I need to be. I like being pushed while racing because it only makes me stronger."

Skiba will have a bit of familiarity with the course in Indiana. She transferred to CLU from UCLA this year, and competed in a preseason race in Terre Haute for the Bruins as a freshman.

"It definitely helps because I kind of know my way around and I know what it looks like," Skiba said. "Just knowing the terrain is extremely helpful."

Skiba has gradually gained ground on Moreno throughout the season.

Crawford believes Skiba's progression is based more on psychological strides than physical ones.

"She has settled in and knows CLU is the place where she can grow as an athlete," Crawford said. "I think back in camp she was a bit ambivalent about her situation and had the fear of the unknown, which can be a scary thing. But she has gone from being reserved and quiet to being really confident in her role."

Having watched Skiba pursue her goal with such dedication, Crawford knows Skiba's prepared to make it happen.

"She is really the only person who is able to limit her potential," Crawford said. "She has great momentum going in and is an absolute gamer. By the time the gun goes off, she is out to win."