by Sena Hughes
The Whitworth cross country team has a reputation of success. The men have been crowned Northwest Conference champions two out of the last three seasons. The women have most recently received that honor in 2009. Both teams have made consistent appearances as national competitors.
“We’re a great team,” head coach Toby Schwarz said. “We have a lot of promise.”
The 2011 season hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the Pirate cross country runners. Health has been a battle, especially on the women’s side. Additionally, the women have a senior-less squad, running with very little collegiate experience.
“We’re an extremely young team,” junior frontrunner Joy Shufeldt said. “We have lots of freshmen and not a whole lot of experience racing at this level.”
There have been additional challenges for the women’s team. Schwarz said he would like to see the back pack of runners stay closer to the front, and for everyone to continue to run faster and improve their times.
To top it all off, the weather has not let these runners off the hook.
“[I was surprised at] how hot it would be this fall,” Schwarz said.
Although the team has had its battles, morale is still high.
“Though they train hard, this is a team that knows how to have fun, whether that be singing during warm-ups or busting a move at a team dance party,” said Schwarz
The time the team spends hanging out outside of practice shows in their work ethic and team unity.
“We’ve bonded well as a team, which helps motivate us to work hard because we want to do well for each other,” Shufeldt said.
On Saturday the Pirates traveled to Salem, Ore., to run in the Willamette Invitational Meet. The Whitworth women finished 12th out of 16 teams. It was a good test for the team to match up against conference opponents.
“Today was a good indication of where we’re at,” Shufeldt said. “I’m really excited to see how we progress in the next few weeks.”
Shufeldt led the team as she has consistently done. Freshman Christina Anderson also continued to race well. The women finished sixth against conference teams. Schwarz said Saturday’s meet was disappointing for the women.
“We’ve got some work to do there,” Schwarz said.
Hard work and determination are key for the women at this point. Though talented, the team is young, so confidence is essential.
“They need to believe they can do it,” Schwarz said. “They’re young and inexperienced so believing is a big thing.”
The meet looked different from the men’s side. Though still improving, the men finished a solid seventh out of 15 teams on Saturday. Berrian led the men, followed by senior Aaron Jenkins. Junior Tim Hill and freshman Eli Deitz also ran strong races. Finishing second in the conference, Willamette University was the only NWC team that outran the Pirates.
“It’s not bad, but we like to beat Willamette,” Schwarz said.
With the conference meet and a chance to earn more NWC titles just around the corner, Schwarz and the teams know they need to work hard in order to achieve their goals. Improvement goes beyond just the physical part of running.
“All of us need to work on the mental aspect of training and racing,” Shufeldt said. “We’re all physically capable, but we just need to work on getting our minds in a place where we don’t impose limitations on ourselves.”
It’s a tough spot of the season for any team. With both school and running in full gear, fatigue can set in.
“[We need to] be able to pick each other up in these tough times and [stay] positive, “Barrien said.
Schwarz praised the level of talent on both squads.
“It’s fun working with a talented, hardworking team,” Schwarz noted.
So much of competition now depends on believing in the time put into training, the teams’ unity and the desire to win.
“I think we’ll do the unexpected,” Shufeldt said. “If we train hard these next few weeks, trust in God and trust in each other, then conference will be amazing.”
Schwarz believes with hard work in practice they will be OK.
“We’re progressing,” Schwarz said. “Just a little slower than we wanted.”
From here, Whitworth has just one more meet before heading back to Oregon at the end of the month for the conference competition.
“Hopefully we can get better over the next four weeks,” Schwarz said.