Men’s XC racing for top conference honors

With the Whitman men’s cross country season underway, the team’s confidence is palpable. Several runners are enthusiastic about the start to the year and have already set high goals. The team is excited about the possibility of qualifying for Nationals at the end of the season, including team captain, senior T.C. Heydon.

“Nationals is always a goal for the team, but we haven’t really explicitly talked about it much this season. We’re taking things one step at a time, and it’s hard to know how things will turn out because it is so early in the season,” said the team’s captain, senior T.C. Heydon. “I can say with certainty that it has been decades since the men’s team last went to Nationals.”

But the team will have to get through a grueling Northwest Conference regular season in addition to two important races at the Conference Finals and Regionals before they can qualify for the Nationals race.

Heydon earned his spot as captain during his final year at Whitman by being an outstanding athlete and leader, and he feels comfortable in his role.

“It’s a really enjoyable experience. I really hope to help create an environment that my teammates enjoy and that is conducive to our success as a team. It’s awesome to spend time with a hard-working, dedicated and talented group of guys,” said Heydon.

For members of the cross country team, which operates on significant teammate initiative and oversight as the coaches don’t typically run with them, the captain serves as a second coach and motivator during workouts.

One big change from last season is the increased competition throughout the team. Junior Matt Wotipka explained how Head Cross Country Running Coach Scott Shields has influenced the team and made it more competitive.

“Scott has been a coach for four years, and before that the team was just not competitive at all. I do not think the coach [prior to Shields] did any recruiting or anything like that. In the last two years, Scott has slowly tried to make the transition to a more competitive team,” said Matt.IMG_3080WEB

Sophomore Riley Worthington talked more about training changes.

“There have been a couple changes such as the addition of Michael Gordon as an assistant coach and more specific workout pacing instructions based on heart rate and physiological data that have really helped our training. We also moved our mandatory day without a coach as per NCAA rules from Sunday to Monday so that we can now access our locker room in the Sherwood Center along with the ice bath, foam rollers, and other recovery tools on our long run day,” he said.

Worthington also mentioned how each member of the team has improved and almost everyone on the team is clocking similar times.

“Something that has really developed this year has been our tendency to run more as a pack in races. Many guys have moved up to a place where on any given day we could finish in any order depending on who is feeling the best,” said Worthington.

Both Worthington and Wotipka agree that the team is much deeper than last year. The team had only a 1:30 spread from their first place runner to their ninth place runner in the last meet at Plants Ferry Park in Spokane, considered a difficult course.

The decisions of the coaching staff seem to be paying dividends for the team. 

“We have an excellent coaching staff, and the program is headed in a great direction. This season is looking good, as are the years to come. Our coaching staff is excellent and they have our workouts and racing schedule planned out in a way that truly sets us up for success,” said Heydon.

Sophomore Will Mullins also shared his thoughts about the coaching staff.

“Almost all the credit needs to go to the coaches. They are the ones who set our schedules, who do all the science, and do everything that we need in order to be the best we can. They give us everything we need. All the food, all the nutrition, all the advice … ultimately it is down to them at the end of the day. Scott, Neal, and Michael are all fantastic; honestly I could not wish for a better coaching staff and without them we would not be able to hit the times we do,” he said.