Last Saturday at Central College, senior cross country runners stood at the starting line of the NCAA Division III Central Regional Championships knowing that the race they were about to run could very well be the last of their collegiate careers. Despite having runners like Adam Dalton ’16 and Emma Luhmann ’18 earn all-region honors, the men’s and women’s cross country teams were unable to qualify for Nationals, bringing the season to an end for the Conference champions.
The women’s team finished 13th with 347 points, while the men’s team finished 15th with 399 points. On the women’s side, Luhmann finished the 6-kilometer race in 22nd place, Emma Zimmerman ’18 in 52nd and Paulina Campbell ’16, in her last collegiate race, finished 67th.
Players and coaches alike felt that their performance at the meet, while solid, did not quite meet their expectations.
“For most of the team, really, on both sides, we didn’t perform the way we wanted to,” said John Lennon ’19, who finished the 8-kilometer course in 18th place. “[Dalton and Luhmann] did really well, and probably a little better than we expected them to.”
Women’s head coach Evelyn Freeman agreed that the results were not exactly what they were hoping for, but injuries prevented the women from racing to their full potential.
“It was kind of a mixed bag,” Freeman said. “We had a couple of women with a few health issues, so we just weren’t firing on all cylinders.”
While Luhmann agreed the team performance didn’t go exactly as planned, she was pleased with her personal performance.
“It didn’t go as we hoped for for our team, but individually I was really happy with my race,” Luhmann said.
Additionally, the weekend’s weather made for difficult racing conditions. Cold weather and hard ground can cause runners to glide along the course as if on ice skates, speeding up their times, but the damp conditions over the weekend had the opposite effect, slowing down the racers. Runners cannot always change their style to adapt to the conditions, so according to Luhmann, their only option is to complain about the soft ground and keep running. However, Lennon clarified that the long, winding and slow road did not affect all runners equally.
“The times across the whole field were way slower than last year, although it didn’t seem to affect Salty
[Dalton],” Lennon said.
Another factor in the underwhelming performance was the focus of the team’s training regime. According to Lennon, the men’s running schedule was geared towards winning Conference rather than Regionals, and in that sense, expectations were lower.
“We set up our season to peak at the Conference meet two weeks ago, and we succeeded at that,” Lennon said.
Freeman also pointed out that runners are competing not so much to have the best time possible, but simply to finish ahead of the competition, especially this time of year, when weariness and harsh weather come into play. In the face of these challenges, the competitive spirit reigns supreme. In fact, one of Campbell’s goals for the meet was to defeat a Cornell College runner who had bested her in a previous race.
“One of her goals was to beat a girl from Cornell who just nipped her at Conference and she beat her substantially, which was pretty gratifying for her,” Freeman said.
Freeman and Luhmann agreed that the team would miss the contributions of their seniors next year, both because of their performances and their contributions to team spirit. Campbell and Toni Androski ’16 were two of the team’s top seven runners, as well as team leaders. Lennon also acknowledged that the loss of the seniors, such as Dalton and Nate Kolacia ’16, would prove a challenge to the men next season. Despite these losses, Lennon imagines that the cross country team can be just as successful next year, especially with the goal of extending their Conference dominance always on their minds.
“I’m a first year, I don’t know a ton of the history, but keeping the streak alive for the sake of keeping the streak alive is a big thing for us,” Lennon said.