The men’s and women’s cross country teams had strong performances against conference teams at the Willamette Invitational last Saturday. The men finished 11th out of 14 teams in the 8K race and fourth out of seven NWC opponents behind Willamette, UPS and Whitman. The women had an even stronger showing in the 5K with a fourth place finish out of 16 teams and second in conference opponents behind Willamette. “We learned stuff from Sundodger, we worked on those things over the last two weeks and then we executed it,” Head Coach Toby Schwarz said. “The best thing is going out there, learning some things and I think as athletes and as a team we worked on things and those things paid off.”
Despite not having senior Christina Williams on the race-day squad, the women were able to edge out Whitman and UPS in spite of losing to them at the Sundodger Invite. Junior Amanda Blankenship finished 21st with a time of 18:38.5 and was closely followed by junior Kellyn Roiko with a time of 18:39.8 for 24th place. Sophomore Kristen Schoenike finished next in 27th with a time of 18:42.6.
“Our strategy was to go out a little bit faster than we’re comfortable usually going out with, and trying to recognize who was in our conference and focusing on passing people in our conference,” Roiko said.
The absence of Williams might have been a setback for the women’s team, but sophomore Allie Wood and sophomore Kendall Chin rounded out the scoring for the women to help them finish well.
“I feel like we are probably one of the deepest teams in the conference. We just have a lot of strong runners that are in the middle of our team and so that’s really exciting,” Roiko said.
The men increased their stock in the NWC rankings by beating out Lewis & Clark, who defeated them at Sundodger. Sophomore Pirate frontrunner Chris MacMurray dropped out of the race after two miles due to complications with preexisting plantar fasciitis. Junior Colton Berry crossed the line first for the men’s team with a 46th place finish and a time of 26:10.6. Senior Taylor Steele came in next with a 52nd place finish and a time of 26.19.32. Then, senior Trent Dudley finished in 59th with a time of 26:25.9.
“[Our performance] shows that we’re getting better every week. We’re getting better at racing,” Dudley said. “I think it helps us with our confidence and we can go to Lewis & Clark two weeks from now and hopefully beat some of the teams that beat us today and come even closer to Willamette.”
Dudley said he is excited about the fact that the men raced more as a team than as individuals at this meet, which was something the team had trouble with throughout last year.
“We’re also just racing a lot better as a team, especially in the front pack we were able to pack up a couple times. Taylor and I ran together pretty much the whole race and we were able to pack up with Colton for a little bit of it too,” Dudley said.
The Pirate teams will take a week off from competition and return on Oct. 18 to compete in the Lewis & Clark Invitational in Oregon.