One Kilometer In: A Look at the Blues’ Cross Country Season

Gaby Thomas, Sports Writer

Contributed by Lucy O’Sullivan. Taken after Sundodger Invite.

The Cross Country team is an elusive one compared to the rest of the varsity teams at Whitman College. They have no pool, court or field to call their own; the bulk of their training is done outside the path of a typical Whitman student’s daily ventures—and unlike the basketball or tennis teams—their competitions are not something the community can easily attend.  

But on occasion, one may step out of the Science building after lab or onto Harper Joy for their trek home, and they just may happen to catch a glimpse of a herd of runners rounding the corner for the start of a high-mileage workout.  Additionally, for the first time since 2008, Walla Walla will play host to the Northwest Conference Championships, where the Whitman community can finally see its cross country athletes performing at the peak of their abilities.

The cross country team kicked off its 2017 season during the Sundodger Invitational in Seattle, Wash. on September 16.  The Whitman runners competed in the Open division, with senior Will Mullins finishing third out of the teams in the Northwest Conference and 28 overall in the Men’s eight kilometer race. Whitney Rich, a sophomore on the team, also had a stellar performance, finishing second in the conference, and 11 overall in the Women’s six kilometer race.

“My biggest competition is Whitworth’s top runner; her and I will be contenders for the individual conference title,” Rich stated, who is looking forward to bumping up to first by the end of the season.

In addition to the outstanding races run by these returners, there were four new runners on the men’s team and five new runners on the women’s team who all clocked personal bests as Whitman athletes.

“Both teams are very young and the first-years are integrating well into the teams. We have two international teammates this year and it has been fun to learn about the running culture that they grew up in and to share ours. The first years ran their first college mileages at the last race in Seattle, so personal records all around,” Rich added.

This coming weekend, the Blues will race in their second meet of the season, the Charles Bowles Invitational in Salem, Ore. where the men and women will run the 8K and 5K, respectively.  

After that, the team has the Lewis and Clark Invite in Estacada, Ore. on October 14, which will serve as their final race prep before the Northwest Conference Championships at Veterans Memorial Golf Course in Walla Walla on October 28. Finally, a few of the team members will go on to compete in the Division III West Regional Championships in Pomona, Calif. and from there, possibly the National Championships in Elsah, Ill.

While these early-season invites provide an opportunity for Blues’ runners to improve their times and perfect their racing strategies, they are already looking ahead to the end of their season.

“Cross country is unique from the other sports in that regular season record doesn’t really matter, so everything we do is in preparation for conference and regionals. Our goals for the rest of the regular season are to continue to practice the routine of racing and competing and build fitness so we’re ready to go for the important races at the end of the season,” Riley Worthington, a senior on the men’s team explained.

The Blues’ runners also emphasize a strong cohesiveness, despite the individual nature of the sport.  From teambuilding formals at Taqueria Mi Pueblito to enduring up to 70-mile-per-week training schedules, they rely on each other to reach both individual and team goals.

“This year we’re a lot more unified with our goals as a team. We’ve always been a family, but we also want to be competitive within the conference, and I think we have the drive to perform really well this season,” Claire Ommen, a junior on the women’s team confirmed.

With the excitement of a home meet, a strong performance already under their belt, and a fiery group of first year runners, the 2017 season is shaping up to be an exciting one for Whitman’s Cross Country team.