Strong Results Build Confidence for Cross Country

Kelsey Peck

With two meets already under their belt, it’s obvious that Whitman’s cross country team’s Wednesday-morning workouts have paid off. After already displaying great performances both as a team and individually in the first two meets of the year, it’s safe to say that the cross country team is off to the races.

“If we can make it through Wednesday-morning workouts, we can do anything,” said sophomore Julia Hart when asked to comment on the upcoming cross country season at Whitman College.

On the women’s side, the Lady Missionaries have swept their opponents, posting wins in both meets so far this year. Their first sight of competition took place at the Clash of the Northwest Meet at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. While the meet included runners from several Division I schools around the Northwest, Whitman went head-to-head with fellow Northwest Conference team Whitworth University and came away with a 36-19 win. The women followed this strong performance  by hosting and defeating the Mountaineers of Eastern Oregon University 36-23.

“I think the team has competed very well in the last couple meets. We have a really strong pack of girls running right now,” said Hart. “I’m just trying to get the hang of racing because it’s my first ever season of cross country.”

It’s Hart’s first season of cross county racing, but she has already made her way into the top five runners for Whitman in both meets and finished third overall in the latest race. Other top five runners have included sophomore Ziggy Lanman, sophomore Julia Wood, sophomore Carolyn Erving, sophomore Emily Williams and junior Skye Pauly. Pauly, who took a year off from Whitman to travel, has finished first for the Lady Missionaries in both races, placing 30th overall in the Northwest Clash and first overall in the latest home meet. Her performance earned her the Northwest Conference Student Athlete of the Week award for women’s cross country.

“Skye definitely deserved this recognition. When one of us is recognized, it reflects positively on her teammates that she trains with on a daily basis,” said coach Scott Shields via email.

The men, also off to a great start, have a slightly different story than the women. Despite suffering losses in both meets, losing 38-17 to Whitworth and 33-22 against Eastern Oregon, the men are staying optimistic.

“I think the first two races were solid, but we haven’t attached much value to them because the freshmen didn’t run the 6k and our home meet was the first 8k of the season” said junior T.C. Heydon. “It’s understood that we’re going to be gaining experience over the course of the season and getting faster.”

With significant individual successes already, the men have every reason to continue this optimism. They saw five runners place in the top 70 in the Northwest Clash, including Heydon’s 52nd-place finish. Like the women, this meet included some fierce Divion I competition, making their successes that much more impressive. Their performance at the latest meet also illuminated the talents of the team. Within the races tightly packed finish, Whitman’s Heydon and first-year Alex Waheed nabbed the third and fourth place spots, with first-year Caleb Moosman finishing in seventh place.

“Our freshman runners are so talented, and they’re only going to get better. And the returners have been setting a good example and working hard every practice,” said Heydon.

All of these positive signs have Shields feeling optimistic about his team’s prospects this season.

“I really like where we are at right now. Our races are focused to be a solid progression to the NCAA Regional Race in Claremont Calif. We have started really well and we know we can show how good a team we are when it matters most,” said Shields.

Both the men and women refuse to bank on previous successes as they look toward the future and the upcoming season.

“It’s important for people to stay motivated and focused mid-season. If we keep each other positive and keep encouraging each other to work hard, we will continue to improve,” said Hart.

Confidence and positivity remain important themes as the team looks forward. Not only will they continue to improve technique and ability, but also they will continue to unite as a collective and supportive team.

“As a team I feel we have forged a stronger bond than any other year before, and it’s only because of the individuals we have on the team right now,” said Shields. “On the competitive side of things, I am really excited and very optimistic about how we are going to perform at the end of the season. A lot can happen between now and then, but this team is really dialed into doing everything right every day.”

The men and women will compete next in Spokane, Wash. on Saturday, Sept. 21 in the Runner’s Soul Race.