Whitman cross country opens season strong

Tyler Hurlburt

On Saturday, Sept. 4, Whitman’s cross country team hosted its only home meet of the season: the annual Whitman College Invitational at Fort Walla Walla Park. Both the men and the women, under the reins of new head coach Scott Shields, ran to second place standings in the four-team invitational against three Northwest Conference rivals.

Despite four of their top five runners graduating last year, a deep women’s team ran very well. They placed five runners in the top 13, led by sophomore Emilie Gilbert and senior captain Kristen Ballinger. Gilbert was fifth overall and Ballinger was seventh. Gilbert and Ballinger paced the women to a second place finish 26 points behind Whitworth, beating both University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran by comfortable margins of 34 and 37 points. Rounding out the Missionary women’s top five were sophomore Lori Mendelsohn, first-year Skye Pauly and junior Christine Kiely who were 10th, 12th and 13th respectively.

Last year the women took second at both the NWC Cross Country Championships and the NCAA DIII West Regional behind Whitworth, and traveled to the National Championships in Ohio. This season they look to perform just as well. Shields, taking over the cross country team after the resignation of former head coach Malcolm Dunn, believes that the team has the capabilities to repeat on their tremendous success from last year, even after graduating a very strong class of seniors. “Conference-wise I think we’ve got a definite shot at it, regionally a little tougher, and nationally a bit tougher from the region,” Shields said. “But I’m always hopeful.”

Ballinger is also positive despite graduating so many of their top runners from last year, and looks to the future as an opportunity for growth.

“It’s a clean slate and I’m excited to   see how it is filled,” she said.

The Missionary men also ran well at the meet, led by the performance of senior captain Sam Hennessey. The men were able to secure a second place overall standing with the fifth, seventh, and eighth place individual finishes from Hennessey, sophomore Cory Rand and senior captain Dan Luecke respectively. Just like the women’s team, the men were beat only by Whitworth, whose runners took the top four places. Wrapping up the men’s top five were first-year Spencer Corwin and sophomore Taylor Mesojednik placing 15th and 18th.

In 2009, the men finished fourth in the conference trailing Whitworth, Willamette and Linfield. Luecke believes that the team is capable of performing as well they did last year, which was the team’s best finish since 1994, or even exceed that.

“I think that we’ve gained enough strength so that we have at least the same potential that we ever did last year. And I think if we are smart about our training and our season in general, our racing, I think we have every potentiality to exceed last year,” said Lueke in regards to competition within the conference.

With six first-years on the men’s side and nine on the women’s, the newcomers are poised to be an integral part to the team both on and off the course. Four first-years on each side placed in Whitman’s top ten at the meet. Not only are they running well, but these underclassmen are also adjusting well to the social aspect of a collegiate team.

“I think [the first-years] are incorporating really well actually, better than in past years,” Luecke said. “They are doing a really great job of becoming part of the team both socially and athletically and they are going to improve a lot.”

The Missionaries next race is at the Sundodger Invitational in Seattle on Sept. 14.