Whitman cross country begins marathon toward NWC championships

Emily Solomon, Sports Editor

The Whitman men’s and women’s cross country teams took off running for the first time this month at the Pacific Lutheran University invitational in Tacoma, Washington on Saturday, Sept 21. Whitman easily flew by all other Northwest Conference teams, finishing almost 40 points ahead of Whitworth, which took third place. Both teams saw great success as the women’s team finished second and the men’s team took fifth place.

The race wove through and around Pacific Lutheran’s campus, including three 2k trails that looped around its athletic facilities on both gravel and dirt trails.

Senior Spanish and Hispanic Studies major Whitney Rich’s successful weekend was topped off when she earned the Northwest Conference Cross Country Athlete of the Week Award. Rich placed third in the 6k race that consisted of over 100 racers, finishing only behind two division two Seattle Pacific runners.

“It was an amazing honor,” Rich said. “I am excited to continue to progress in the coming weeks leading to the championship part of our season with Conference, Regionals and the ultimate goal of qualifying our team for Nationals.”

Cross country head coach Scott Shields was left very impressed after both of his teams’ performances over the weekend.

“It’s unbelievably exciting when both teams put together quality races like we did this weekend,” Shields said. “We are a tight family and celebrate each other’s successes, so there was a lot to celebrate that day. We showed how strong we are in the conference overall, which reinforced our season expectations and goals.”

As the Blues finished well ahead of any other NWC squad, both teams have gained confidence as they prepare to race other runners from Willamette, Linfield and Pacific, schools they have not yet gone up against this year.

“The team energy before and after the race was incredible,” Rich said. “Going into our next race at Willamette against other conference teams, we are ready for another incredible race with lots of personal records and another top spot in the NWC.”

For those of us who don’t run cross country or maybe aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the sport, it might be hard to wrap your head around just how fast these athletes are running. For instance, the men’s race is eight kilometers, and the Blues are able to run at an average pace of about 5:20-5:30 minute mile times for five miles in a row, with the top runner coming in with a 5:10 per mile pace.

The women’s race is six kilometers, so they are tackling each mile at a 6:15-6:30 per mile pace for four miles in a row, with the top runner crossing the finish line with a 5:40 per mile pace.

Junior BBMB major Maamoon Saleh also ran a personal best and placed tenth amongst NWC competition. He shared that he is looking forward to shaking up the conference as it’s still early on in the season and his team still has a lot to prove.

“As a team performance, it was a big confidence booster for both the men and the women. On the men’s side, most of our guys were able to achieve personal records,” Saleh said. “Along the way, we were able to beat Whitworth, a conference rival that was ranked higher than us and who finished right behind George Fox, who was picked number one in the conference.”

While Whitman gains a big lead in the NWC standings, they also make sure to have lots of fun along the way. They mentioned that competing is even better when you are working alongside your friends and it also makes the sweet taste of success a little bit sweeter.

Shields said that his teams are “true friends, teammates and competitors, and when we are together we know that we have something special going on this season.”

The Blues are very excited to see just how much this invitational will foreshadow the rest of their season as they are confident in their abilities to completely take over the NWC.

“The women’s team returns a very mature and fast team with a high quality senior class, so their goals are to win the NWC and then quality for the NCAA National Championships,” Shields said. “The men’s team is young, hungry, and strong – setting their eyes on a top two finish in the conference.”

Whitman will head to Salem, Oregon, for the Charles Bowles Invitational on Saturday, Oct 5.