At 3 a.m. last Thursday, the Occidental men’s and women’s cross country team made their way to Winneconne, Wisc. for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Kollege Sports Town Invitational. Competing against nine teams that were nationally ranked, the top eight runners from both the men’s and women’s teams held their own in a strong field of competitors.
The women’s team finished 12th out of 36 teams and the men’s team came in eighth out of 37 teams. On the men’s side, Keenan Leary (junior) finished 40th out of more than 550 runners, while Austin Sakaran (junior) came in 45. On the women’s team Roxanne Valle (sophomore), Eva Townsend (junior), Fiona Pedrick (first year), Sabrina Thurber (first year) and Erika Schell (sophomore) all set personal records, while Valle ran in her first race since sustaining an injury over the summer. She was the first Occidental runner to cross the finish line (No. 31 overall).
“We didn’t want to rush her back into competing but we took time to see if she could stay healthy and feel confident, so by the time she starting competing she could do so and feel good about it,” head coach Robert Bartlett said.
Bartlett is dedicated to building the runners’ confidence, making sure the team sticks to a routine to increase their comfortability especially while traveling. From eating pasta the night before meets to running a mile the morning of, Bartlett keeps the team’s preparation regimented.
“I like to keep things pretty routine so that there’s familiarity when the surroundings and location aren’t familiar at all,” Bartlett said.
The team’s strong performance running against nationally ranked competition was another confidence booster. Bartlett chose Oshkosh because it offered both teams the chance to compete with nationally ranked teams to show the NCAA how they stack up. As one of the only Division III teams in the western USA, the exposure to nationally ranked teams as well as the chance to prove themselves ensures a greater chance of getting an at-large bid from the NCAA that would send the Tigers to the national competition. Sakaran echoed his coach’s sentiment.
“We ran a great team race and beat two ranked teams which helps us as we try and qualify for nationals,” Sakaran said. “We came out of it with a lot of confidence but know we have a lot of room for improvement as well.”
Not only did competing help to raise the team’s confidence, but their teammates‘ support was a major source of encouragement as well.
“I was cheering so loudly and losing my voice, all the people near me were like what are you doing,” Townsend said.
Occidental Alumni Robbie George ’16, Marnie Kinnaird ’14 and Louis Jochems ’15 also came to support their old teammates, surprising the cross country team at the hotel when the team came back to eat.
“The best part of Oshkosh was bonding with the team, confidence breeds success and success breeds confidence. Oh and we got our own queen beds, and free food, so much free food,” Aria Blumm (sophomore) said.
The self-assurance of the older students helped make the freshman on the team feel more comfortable, according to Townsend.
“Our girls team is super young, so I think the more experience we get the more success we’ll have,” Townsend said. “The older students need to lead the way and I think that was a good step for this weekend.”
While the runners may have been ready to race, they weren’t ready for Wisconsin weather. Accustomed to the steady 95 degree LA heat, the team found themselves shivering in Wisco fall.
“We were all wearing our parkas and everyone around us was like, ‘it’s only 60 degrees out.’ We were all just freezing,” Townsend said.
Now, back in Southern California, the team is keeping their sights set high. They have reached the level at which Bartlett hoped they would be by the end of October. The team is currently preparing for the SCIAC championships this upcoming weekend and looking forward to NCAA regionals two weeks after. Townsend maintained that the team’s focus is the big picture and the process, as opposed to the results.
“We’re on the right track… sorry I mean course.”