Cross country season preview

Pamela London

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Led by strong senior leadership on both sides, the Whitman men’s and women’s cross country teams are already full steam ahead on the road to regionals in late October.

Each team was tabbed for a fifth-place finish in the West Region in preseason polls, and Head Coach Scott Shields is looking to meet and potentially exceed expectations.

“[Finishing fifth in the region] is a realistic goal for the men’s team,” said Shields. “The women are hoping to finish much higher and potentially qualify for the National Championships by finishing in the top two [in the region].”

In order to make the most of the season and perform well at Regionals, both teams will have to rely heavily on their senior leadership. Led by co-captains Taylor Mesojednik and Cory Rand, the men’s cross country team has three seniors on its roster. On the women’s side, six seniors highlight a roster that includes senior co-captains Shannon McCarty and Emilie Gilbert.

The focus of each team’s season is not necessarily on the NWC Championship meet, but rather two weeks later at the NCAA Division III West Regionals. Here, runners can qualify individually and as a team for the National Championships.

“[T]he focus is never having our best race be at the Conference meet,” said Shields. “We are saving our best race for Regionals. I feel if I want to have a quality program, I want my runners to run their best at the biggest race. So our tapper is strategically set to run our best two weeks after Conference at the Regional meet.”

Last year, both teams finished in the top 10 in the West Region and Shields believes they “can repeat that effort again this year, if not a few places higher.”

Men’s preview

Whitman admittedly lost a lot off of last year’s team that finished sixth in the NWC. 2011 captain Brendan Boyer graduated last spring and senior Oliver Wood, an all-region runner in 2011, decided to spend the fall semester doing research in an off-campus program. However, Shields’ roster of 19 runners has the potential to achieve its goals of a high team finish at Regionals.

Mesojednik placed first in the team time trials earlier in the season, demonstrating his consistent improvement by pulling away from the group towards the end of the race. Junior Joe Mayo finished second, followed by Rand in third.

In addition to those top three, the Missionaries are led by senior Whitney Griggs, juniors Spencer Corwin and Taylor Nelson, and sophomore Colin Domonoske. Shields hopes that his first-years and other runners across the roster rise above expectations and perform well all season.

Women’s preview

Despite losing 2011 standouts Mollee Huisinga and Kelly Jensen to graduation and junior Skye Pauly to a year off for travel, the Whitman women’s cross country team has high expectations for 2012.

“While losing those three from last year’s team was a big loss, I feel we should not miss a beat because the returning and first-year runners are going to fill those gaps in potentially a bigger way,” said Shields. The women have six first-years on their 24-runner roster that spreads out collegiate running experience across all four classes.

Along with McCarty and Gilbert, expect big performances from seniors Katri Gilbert––Emilie Gilbert’s twin sister––and Lori Mendelsohn, juniors Allie Willson and Annie Watters, and sophomore Erin Campbell. However, do not be surprised to see impressive times put up all season throughout the team: Only 40 seconds separated the top 12 runners at Whitman’s team trials earlier this season.

That depth will be key for Whitman throughout the fall, as any number of runners can compete in the top group at each weekend race.

For both the men’s and women’s teams, the next chance for competition is Sept. 15 at the annual Sundodger Invitational at Lincoln Park in Seattle, Wash. Athletes from across the region and at all levels of competition––DI through DIII––will be running in one of the more well-known races of the season.

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