Men’s cross country bonds through adversity

The 2013 Whitworth men’s cross country team is not the Northwest Conference champion, nor do they have members part of the all-conference teams. They could not manage to obtain higher than a sixth place finish all season long, yet eight men rose to the challenge to fight to push their bodies and minds to the absolute limit; to become not only a team, but a family and that is why they succeed. This year, the men’s team had the smallest roster since the 1998 men’s team that only had six members. A smaller team left less room for error and increased individual responsibility.

“I could have 30, 40 or 50 guys on the cross country team. We’d probably have a lot of fun, but that’s not what we are interested in,” head coach Toby Schwarz said. “We are interested in athletes who are trying to win nationals or conference titles because we are trying to test and push people to be their best.”

A smaller roster did not stop the men from setting high goals for the team at the beginning of the season.

“We didn’t change our goals of trying to win conference and go to nationals just because we were a team of only [eight] guys,” junior Matt Ferris said. “We just understood that we need to train and race better.”

As a result of a smaller team with no new recruits, the men developed a close bond right away.

“We felt like a band of brothers in the beginning of the season,” senior captain Matt Edwards said. “The women had a large team and we didn’t, but I thought we had everything we needed to do well and I think we became closer as a result of that.”

The men’s season looked promising from the outset when the men took a sixth place finish out of 18 teams at the Sundodger Invitational in Seattle, where they beat two other conference rival teams.

“Sundodger was a meet where we looked really strong,” junior Trent Dudley said. “A lot of guys ran to their potential, we ran as a team and looked strong as a team.”

As the season continued, minor health issues, a lack of confidence  and the smaller roster took a toll on the men’s performance to the point where the season became tougher, Edwards said.

After taking 15th place at the Runner’s Soul/Erik Anderson Invite at Plantes Ferry Park for their lowest-ranking meet of the season, the men began to realize what this season was really about, as well as what was important to them not only as teammates, but as friends.

“Every guy on the team is completely different, but we all have running in common, and we have the desire to do well, which is something that brought us eight individuals together,” Edwards said. “It’s good when you can run with friends that you trust deeply and know that they are working hard. Even if they don’t have a good race, you can trust that they are working as hard as you.”

After figuring out how to work together as a team, the men started to accomplish their goals little by little.

“Obviously the score wasn’t fantastic at conference, but we were able to actually run as a team which was something that we wanted to do all season,” Ferris said. “It wasn’t all that fast, but it was a step in the right direction and showed us what we were capable of.”

After embracing humility, the men can approach the next race, knowing the best way for them to achieve success is by working with each other.

“We understand why we are racing now,” sophomore Chris MacMurray said. “I mean we all can go out to train hard and run hard to achieve a certain time but ultimately we are part of a team and when you are a team the race isn’t just about you anymore, it’s about the teammate next to you. We learned that we need to be one unit versus a bunch of individuals.”

The men were able to grow together as a team in part because they were challenged by the program, Schwarz said.

“He [James] says in James, ‘Consider it pure joy when you face trials because trials produce all these things so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything’ (James 1:2-4),” Schwarz said, “and that’s what we are trying to do.”

The men will have one last shot at redemption in the NCAA Division III West Regionals on Nov. 16 in Claremont, Calif.

Jordanne Perry Staff Writer

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