Athenas cross country ‘Packs-Up’ the season with 13th straight SCIAC title, advances to NCAA Regional Championships

Women's CMS cross country team poses for camera and smiles
Athenas pose after winning 13th consecutive SCIAC championship on Oct. 28th (Courtesy: Christian Campbell)

It’s safe to say that the Athenas’ winning appetite RUNs strong, and they filled up their plates last weekend. Devouring their opponents, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) women’s cross country wrapped up their SCIAC season with a feast. With six runners in the top ten finishers, the Athenas earned their thirteenth consecutive SCIAC title on Saturday, Oct. 28. Despite being satiated for now, the Athenas are not quite satisfied and are eagerly anticipating dessert.

Since 2019, the cross-country SCIAC finals have been held in Claremont at the Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) Strehle Track. This year, however, the race was moved to a new and unfamiliar location, with all nine teams competing at the Riverside City Course. However, the new terrain did not prevent the Athenas from successfully maintaining their long-held title of conference champions, a feat achieved through the use of pack-running – a pivotal ingredient in the recipe that cooks up CMS’ ongoing success.

All top three finishers were Athenas, with two-time All-American Natalie Bitetti CM ’24 leading the group. Following her first-place finish, teammates Elle Marsyla HM ’26 and Riley Capuano CM ’26 weren’t too far behind, taking the second and third-place individual titles of the race.

After the first wave of CMS runners claimed the podium, Occidental and Chapman runners took the fourth and fifth place slots respectively. However, CMS was swiftly on their trail, and a second wave of crimson and gold crossed the finish line to secure their first-place overall finish.

Helping the Athenas earn the lowest combined score, Laura Zimmer CM ’24, Angie Gushue CM ’25 and Sara Wexler HM ’26 ended the race in sixth, seventh and eighth place respectively. Wexler said that the groups that finished together had been running together consistently, and their ‘pack’ was able to execute what they had been working on during the race.

“We have had a really solid second pack where the four of us run together, stay together and we focus on passing people as a group,” Wexler said. “I think that keeps us really strong.”

Zimmer also attributed the team’s consistent success during their races to their ability to ‘pack up.’ She said it is a valuable tactic for maintaining pace together and holding each teammate accountable, adding that it helps scoring opportunities when racers on the same team cross the finish line only a few seconds apart.

“It helps you mentally during a race, and when you’re passing other people together, it’s great,” Zimmer said.

Gushue, who ran in the same pack as Zimmer, echoed her teammate. She said that pack running is motivating because they feed off each other’s competitive energy.

“It kind of feels like, when I’m with my teammates, it’s us against everyone else,” Gushue said. “And we just push off each other’s energy. You’re pushing the pace with your teammates; it’s an accountability thing.”

While only the top seven runners, plus one alternate, that place in the SCIAC championship can compete in the regional and national races, the Athenas have traditions that keep everyone on the team feeling like one ‘pack’ as they progress into their final push of the season.

“We had one of our team traditions this past Friday, which is a team prom and a fancy dinner,” Wexler said. “We take pictures at Pomona [College] and go to the Village to come together one more time.”

Despite wrapping up the season in the SCIACs, the Athenas are looking to the future. The Division III regional and national races are their last two opportunities to showcase their abilities as a top-ranked cross-country program.

Currently ranked first in the West region going into this weekend, CMS will return to the Riverside City Course this Saturday, Nov. 11 at 9 a.m. for the NCAA regional championships. The DIII NCAA Cross Country Nationals will be held in Newville, Pennsylvania, the week following the regionals.

Despite the high stakes of their upcoming meet, Zimmer is confident in the Athenas’ ability to perform well at both events.

“Leading up to it, it’s really about locking in and realizing that these two meets coming up matter,” Zimmer said. “We could do something really crazy at Nationals and gaining the confidence and the mentality that we can compete with all these East Coast teams will help us reach that.”

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