XC succeeds at Conference

Mario Santos-Davidson, Staff reporter

This Halloween weekend, the men’s and women’s Cross Country teams ended their Northwest Conference season at the Conference Championships in Tacoma.

Heading into the meet, Coach Scott Shields expressed his pleasure with the whole season, especially the amount of progress that has been made during the year.

“Overall the season’s gone really well. Myself and the [other] coaches are really pleased with not just watching them and seeing their times progress, but [also] what we’re hearing from them. The confidence they’ve gained this season has been tremendous,” Coach Shields said. “We have two incredibly strong teams within our Conference. [I’m] extremely proud of both of them.”

He also expected the two teams to do well and hoped to improve upon their 3rd place rankings.

“On the men’s side, we have a very good chance, if we have a good day, of getting second or potentially first,” Shields said. “[On] the women’s side, if our top three have a good day, you just never know how much farther up the ladder you can climb.”

Junior Alex Waheed shared Shields’ optimism about the end of the season.

“Things are looking good for us. Our record against Conference teams is 11-2 at the three invites,” Waheed said. “The thing about cross country is that if you’re beating a team throughout the whole season, there’s no way they can beat you at the end”.

Having not won a Conference Championship since 1964, the men’s team felt they had an outside chance this year. A big reason for this is the team’s depth and closeness, as Waheed commented on.

“We have by far the deepest team in the Conference. Usually we’ll have our seven guys ahead of other teams’ #4 or #5,” he said. “For myself, I’ve finished anywhere from 4th to 7th [among our team], so there’s lots of changing around. We work together a lot which is great”.

In the cross country season, there were three invites before the Conference Championship, a chance for teams to get competitive runs in without actually affecting final season results. The Conference meet and Regional meet are the first chances to compete against all the teams around Whitman in the rankings at the same time. While the men’s team is ranked behind UPS, they beat them at the previous invite, so there was hope for the men to improve upon their last two 3rd place finishes in 2013 and 2014.

The women were also optimistic, improving on their 4th place finish from a season ago by being ranked 3rd heading into the NWC Championship. Senior Emily Williams was particularly excited about seeing how junior Lara Ruegg and senior Allie Donahue would do at the final Conference meet after their solid seasons.

“[Allie Donahue] has had a stellar season. She’s improved a lot the last two years on the cross country team,” said Williams. “[Another] person I’m excited to see is Lara Ruegg. She’s generally been our #3 and she’s been doing really exciting things this season.”

Coach Shields was also excited about the meet, particularly the beginning of head-to-head competition with the rest of the Conference.

“We run for times and trying to get personal bests, but when it comes to really extreme conditions you have to put that on the shelf and say okay, how am I going to compete,” said Shields. “It’s more of a head-to-head competition now instead of worrying about your time, which is cool too”.

The wet, muddy conditions in Tacoma made for a slower race, but both teams performed well over the weekend, each placing 3rd and earning trips to the West Region Championship in Claremont on November 14. The men finished behind Conference champion Willamette and Puget Sound, while the women were behind first-place Whitworth and runner-up Willamette.

Three Whitman runners made the All-Conference Team: Senior T.C. Heydon and Junior Matt Wotipka for the men’s team, and Senior Julia Hart for the women’s team. Both teams will continue their 2015 seasons for at least two more weeks, hoping to finish well in the region and make it to Nationals.