Cross country season enters home stretch

Bailey Arango

Whitman College’s men’s and women’s cross country teams placed sixth and fourth respectively in last weekend’s Northwest Conference Championships. The tournament saw all nine NWC teams travel to Tacoma, Wash. to vie for the championship title. Both teams will be sending their top seven runners, along with an alternate, to compete in the West Regional tournament in Salem, Ore.

Both squads entered the season facing the prospect of replacing a large senior class, a task sophomore Cory Rand says was no small feat.

“We lost three out of our top five runners, so it was definitely a rebuilding year, but we did pretty well, I think,” he said.

The Whitman men’s sixth place finish paled in comparison to their fourth place showing a year ago. Rand, who spearheaded the Whitman men at last year’s conference championships finishing ninth overall, finished 64th this year. Rand is nursing a lingering leg injury, which will sideline him from his usual place in Whitman’s top seven men and out of the regional tournament.

While the Whitman women’s team suffered similar losses of graduating seniors, they experienced a much less detrimental transition, a result junior Hayley Falk says is indicative of good things to come.

“We got fourth in conference, even though five of our top seven runners graduated last year, so we were all thinking, ‘I don’t know how the season’s going to go,'” she said. “But the freshmen and sophomores have really stepped it up. I’m really proud, and I think it’s been great.”

Behind the scenes, the 2010 cross country season was also defined by a critical change in personnel, as former women’s soccer coach Scott Shields took over the reins of a young Whitman squad.

First-year Robert Dalton had nothing but praise for Shields’ coaching style.

“I’ve really liked Scott, compared to coaches I’ve experienced,” Dalton said. “He’s been great; he’s been really positive. People who know him as the ‘new coach’ in town have been saying really good things about him.”

Rand is especially impressed by the new approaches Shields brings to coaching.

“He’s really attentive, really good at breaking things down on an individual level and figuring out what a runner needs individually instead of the team as a whole. He made us do a lot of new things, like keep journals about nutrition and how we felt during workouts. I really liked that, because in my case, when I wasn’t running as well as I usually do, I was able to look out over my previous logs and see that maybe I was running too many miles, and maybe I was eating too many Pop-Tarts for breakfast,” Rand said.

Falk, a relative veteran on a team filled with underclassmen, also lauded Shields’ ability to respect what worked before he took over as coach.

“He’s trying to learn, he wants to do well and he’s supportive of of our old traditions, and that’s a really good thing,” she said.

Following the regional championships, the top-placing individuals and teams from the tournament will be given a chance to compete at the Division III National Championships. Whitman senior Kristen Ballinger, who finished eighth at the conference, and sophomore Emilie Gilbert, who finished tenth, hope to earn a chance to compete with the nation’s best.

“We weren’t necessarily thrilled with how we did at conference, but that wasn’t Scott’s fault,” Rand said. “We’re a pretty young team.”

Although this rebuilding year didn’t end on a particularly high note for much of the Whitman cross country team, hopes remain for strong performances in the regional tournament and faith in the future of the program under Shields runs high.