by Sena Hughes
The Whitworth cross country team opened the championship portion of its season Saturday Oct. 29 as the men claimed the Northwest Conference title for a second consecutive year and the women placed sixth out of the nine teams competing.
“[The men] just did awesome,” head coach Toby Schwarz said. “It was the best-case scenario.”
Junior Trevor Berrian was the first to cross the finish line for the Pirate men, finishing third overall. Finishing just behind him were senior teammates Aaron Jenkins and Tyler Dudley, who placed an overall fifth and seventh respectively. All three runners were named to the first team All-NWC.
“I thought it was a really good meet, but it definitely wasn’t my peak performance,” Jenkins said. “I think it was like that for most of the guys honestly.”
The men came in as the underdogs to a competitive Willamette University team. Though ranked second, the Pirates ignored outside critique and ran to win.
“We talked about what it took to win and the guys executed,” Schwarz said.
Whitworth finished with a total score of 45, beating rival Willamette by a four-point spread–one more point than last year’s victory. Jenkins credited senior Mark Davis and freshman Eli Deitz, the fourth and fifth runners, for making the difference in Saturday’s meet. The men said they are braced for a hungry Willamette team at regionals next weekend.
“At regionals they’re going to give us a run for our money again,” Jenkins said.
Winning conference was a primary goal for the team all year. They saw their hard work and effort this season pay off Saturday.
“We’ve had really good training this year,” Berrian said. “We’ve been running really well in practice and people aren’t getting worn out.”
The 2011 conference championship is the third in four years for the men. Still, their eyes are set on a higher prize. Now that younger runners, like Deitz, understand the caliber of competition, the team is excited for what is yet to come.
“For Trevor, Tyler, Mark and me, conference is just something we want to win,” Jenkins said. “But it plays a big role for the freshmen because now they’ve been there and they know they can win.”
Though excited about Saturday’s success, the Pirates said they want to make sure they are prepared both mentally and physically for next weekend’s challenge at regionals.
“I’m not thinking about conference now,” Berrian said. “I don’t want to go in being too cocky and over-confident.”
On the women’s side, junior Joy Shufeldt finished second overall for the second year in a row.
“I knew what I wanted to accomplish and I trusted that Toby had trained me in such a way that I could accomplish that,” Shufeldt said.
Shufeldt received All-NWC honors for the third consecutive year.
Schwarz called the women’s sixth place finish disappointing. With such a young and inexperienced team this year, it made conference competition daunting.
“The freshmen were overwhelmed,” Schwarz said. “We didn’t do what we were hoping to do, but we got a lot of experience.”
As has been the story all season, the women’s team struggled with injuries and illness Saturday. Most notably, freshman Christina Anderson, who has been a key runner for the Pirates all year, wasn’t 100 percent healthy.
Like the men, it was a main goal of the women to win conference. At this point, they said they are just hoping to draw from the experience.
“Even though we didn’t meet our goals, I’m still proud of the girls and I’m excited about the opportunity for all of us to get to race at regionals,” Shufeldt said. “I just hope that all the girls can get passed some nerves and anxiousness, and compete hard and race well [at regionals].”
Schwarz and Shufeldt both said they are encouraged by the fact that the women’s team won’t be losing any runners after this year. They said they are thankful for the experience they’ve been given this year and hope to improve certainly next season, and certainly next weekend at regionals.
“Often times we can learn more from failure than success, so hopefully they learned a lot,” Schwarz said.
Though nobody complained about the 50-degree day the Pirates had on Saturday in Brooks, Ore., nobody is complaining about heading to Southern California for regionals, either.
“I’m looking forward to the warm weather,” Berrian said with a smile.
Rain or shine, both Pirates squads know they have unfinished business and are motivated to work hard over the next week in preparation for regionals.
“This year we’re going to be more prepared for a battle at regionals,” Berrian said. “We’re going to have to race really hard.”