Blues at Home: Walla Walla Hosts NWC Cross Country Championships for First Time in Ten Years

Gaby Thomas, Sports Writer

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Cross country is a not a sport that is easily watched. To physically watch the entire race, a spectator would have to run alongside athletes for miles, and even to that extent, would still miss the big picture. They would be unable to relish the ebb and flow of the ever changing positions of the racers. Therefore, cross country fans catch the start, the finish and maybe a few exciting snippets throughout as the runners vie to beat out their competitors. For the Whitman College community, catching even these snapshots has been impossible for the past ten years, as there has not been a major Northwest Conference race held in Walla Walla since 2008. This past Saturday, however, the Veterans Memorial Golf Course in Walla Walla hosted all nine teams in the Northwest Conference for the conference championships.

Senior Will Mullins inches ahead of a competitor from Linfield. Photo by Natalie Mutter

The Whitman Blues ran well on their own turf, with the men finishing fifth overall and the women finishing fourth. The Willamette Bearcats and the Whitworth Pirates took home the conference titles for men and women, respectively. While the men did not finish rank quite as high as in previous years, they took this result in stride, acknowledging the relatively small size and youthfulness of the team. The women finished higher than their recent pattern of sixth place finishes, that they attribute to the widespread success of each individual on the team.

“Whitney did really well, placing ninth and leading our team. Bryn, Camille and Kristen did an awesome job as well of packing it up and finishing really close to each other. Their pack helped us bump up to fourth place as a team,” said Lucy O’Sullivan, a junior who achieved an All-Conference title as well for her race performance, finishing fourteenth overall.

As mentioned by O’Sullivan, Whitney Rich, a sophomore on the team, led the women with a ninth place finish. On the men’s side, sophomore Eli Fournier also finished ninth, with senior Will Mullins close behind in fourteenth.

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  • The women's team runs warmup laps around the golf course in the early morning fog. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Sophomore Eli Fournier finished 9th, with a time of 26:23.4. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Senior Will Mullins. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Senior Camille Anderson sprints for the finish line in the last 10 meters of the race, ending in 29th with a time of 24:19.6. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Sophomore Whitney Rich edges past a competitor fom UPS in the last 50 meters of the race. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Sophomore Bryn Carlson finished 27th with a time of 24:12.5. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Kristen Wanke, sophomore, leads fellow Blues near the middle of the first stretch. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • A pack of Blues. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Sophomore Whitney Rich (center) finished 9th with a time of 23:01.9, landing her on the second team for all-NWC. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Sophomore Whitney Rich and junior Lucy O'Sullivan leading the pack near the start of the race. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • The Blues starting quickly off the line. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • The women's team opening with a cheer for the Blues before the start of their race. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Members of the women's cross country team cheering on their fellow runners. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Assistant coach Neal Christopherson offering encouragement and pacing advice to senior Will Mullins (14th, time of 26:41.1) at the beginning of the last lap. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • Senior Alex Ball. Photo by Natalie Mutter

  • First year Maamoon Saleh finished 36th with a time of 27:40.8. Photo by Natalie Mutter

“Once you’re out on the course, it’s an individual race. But it’s a team race at the same time, yet you don’t have contact on the course, so you are guessing where everyone is at and you have to hope that everyone’s training has paid off,” Fournier said.

While cross country is both physically and mentally challenging on the individual, the Blues felt the energy of the local fans, and took comfort in the convenience of racing in their backyard.  As this will most likely be the last home meet that these runners will experience, they cherished the perks of hosting the conference championships.

“It helped to have the home crowd cheering me in for my last two miles,” emphasized Fournier.

“It was definitely a different kind of feeling preparing for a race and not having to travel by bus or stay in a hotel the night before. Even more exciting, was inviting everyone to come and see us run,” affirmed Rich.

Moving forward, the Blues set their sights on Division III Western Regionals in Pomona, Calif. on Nov. 11, where both the Northwest Conference and the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference will race to secure spots at Division III Nationals in Elsah, Ill.

“Conference is a race for place. We want to see how we stack up against the conference. Regionals is the race that really matters at the national level,” Fournier explained.

The Whitman team continues to reflect as individuals and as a whole, continuing to grind out training for their last few weeks of the season.

“Individually, I’m really happy that I got all-conference. It was definitely an ambitious goal (I placed thirty-fourth at conference last year), but being able to achieve it makes me really confident going into Regionals. For the team, I’m so proud of how we’ve really come together this season to set big goals for ourselves and work together to achieve them,” O’Sullivan said.

These big goals will be put to the test at Western Regionals and Nationals. Without the support of the home crowd cheering them on, the Whitman cross country team will have to be resilient, hard working and focused as they prepares for the most competitive races of the season.

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