‘Run for the team and run for each other’: How the CMS women’s XC team became unstoppable in the 2010s

The CMS women's cross country team posing after winning ten straight.
In 2019, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s cross-country team earned their tenth straight championship in dominating fashion, comfortably blowing out the runner-up competition by double-digits every year. (Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

Featuring the most championships for any women’s cross-country program in the SCIAC, the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women’s cross-country team remained atop the conference’s peak for the last decade, flashing 10 consecutive SCIAC titles.

Throughout their commanding run, the Athenas had immaculate records in all of their championship seasons. They also achieved numerous individual successes under head coach John Goldhammer, featuring 50 All-American and two national champion Athenas during his tenure.  

CMS’ dominance began with the discovery of Jennifer Tavé SC ’12, who served the role of a stellar lead-pack runner for the Athenas. With multiple All-American and First-Team SCAIC honors during her tenure, Tavé broke a 27-year-old school record for the 10-kilometer race and a SCIAC record in the 6-kilometer event, consistently ranking as a top runner in every conference championship to place CMS on top.  

But Tavé did not go the distance alone to carry the Athenas to these victories. Along with UCLA transfer Laura Sauvage CM ’12 coming after the fall semester of 2011, CMS had excellent roster depth through the first three years of the decade. Less than 40 seconds separated their second and eighth-ranked athletes when analyzing their postseason lineups.

Courtesy of these reinforcements, the Athenas blew out their SCIAC competition every year from 2010 to 2013 in late October. While crushing their runner-up opponents by margins of 28, 44 and 36 points respectively, CMS also featured a multitude of women achieving All-SCIAC honors every year. 

The following 2013-14 season was headlined by the departure of Tavé, who joined the CMS coaching staff post-graduation. 

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to the CMS cross-country program that has influenced me in so many ways,” Tavé said at the time. “I can’t wait to work alongside Coach Goldhammer in leading and inspiring the CMS cross country runners to keep chasing who they can become as people, as runners, and most importantly, as a team.”

Behind this revamped coaching staff, the Athenas returned to their winning ways despite losing one of their core athletes. Their championship win that season was highlighted by Adele Elsinger CM ’14 and Alison Barnwell CM ’14, who finished second and third respectively in the meet to comfortably defeat second-place Occidental by 23 points.

“It was exhilarating [to finish as the top Athena]; I was not expecting it at the start of the race,” Elsinger said at the time. It was great to be able to run with the friends that I’ve made over the past four years, feel that [camaraderie], and be able to push each other to contribute overall to the team’s achievements.” 

From Elsinger, the torch passed to Sara Mostatabi CM ’15. During the 2014-15 season, Mostatabi became the 12th woman in SCIAC history to become selected to First-Team honors all four years in a collegiate career.

CMS blew out their next-closest competition by 27 points during the championship match, where their top four runners placed within the fastest nine spots. The meet also featured nine new Athenas receiving All-SCIAC honors for the first time. 

The succeeding two years saw the emergence of Bridget Blum CM ’16, Caroline Willian CM ’17 and Bryn McKillop SC ’18. All Americans Blum and McKillop were the frontrunners for the Athenas in 2015-16 and 2016-17, respectively, while Willian consistently returned top 10 finishes within those years.

In 2015, Blum and Willian led the way for the Athenas by placing in two of the top five fastest times in the title meet. Along with 12 women setting course records during the match, CMS again separated themselves from the second-place program by 33 points, ending with a final score of 27. This was the lowest score posted in the SCIAC championships since 2000.

The following year repeated the course of its direct antecedent. McKillop finished third while Willian ended up eighth, who demonstrated top 10 consistency across three consecutive championship meets. Along with four Athenas placing within the top 10 finishers, CMS ended the competition 42 points away from runner-up Pomona-Pitzer. 

McKillop continued to assert her dominance for the Athenas throughout the next season. In combination with her first-place finish during the championship match, eleven of her teammates placed within the top 24 finishers in the competition, crushing second-place Occidental by 50 points. 

Even further beyond the SCIAC postseason, McKillop continued her excellence in the NCAA West Regional title match by reaching the finish line 20 seconds before any of her opposition. McKillop was named West Region Athlete of the Year after her performance, encapsulating her achievement of earning first-place finishes in all but one of her races.

“Bryn’s shown a veteran’s ability to dictate the race no matter the situation,” CMS assistant coach Collin Christensen said at the time. “It’s evidence of her willingness to work on her weaknesses without compromising her strengths that got her there. She’s a mental monster.”

After earning their first West Regional championship since 2013, the Athenas continued to drive their success in 2018-19 with Malea Martin CM ’19 and Abigail Johnson SC ’21. In 2018, Johnson and Martin filled out the fourth and fifth place spots, respectively, leading to their ninth consecutive title. 

“It was a great feeling to be on a team that saw so much success the last four years,” Martin said at the time. “All of our hard work paid off, and that’s always the most rewarding thing about running.”

The 10th straight championship came similarly, with the top five Athena runners filling out spots within the first 10 finishers. Behind Riley Harmon SC ’22 and Olivia Gleason SC ’21, CMS achieved the impressive feat through a collaborative team effort, using the depth of their roster.

“It was really important that that group behind me all hung together and worked together because that’s how we can continue to move forward and keep everybody up where they should be,” Harmon said. “We went in with the idea that we were going to run for the team and run for each other.”

Currently, the Athenas are off to a smooth start behind Emily Clarke SC ’22, who earned SCIAC Cross Country Athlete of the Week last Tuesday. With a new head coach in Marina Muncan after Goldhammer’s 2020 retirement, the Athenas are looking to continue their dominant legacy moving forward. 

“It’s a long legacy and tradition of excellence that Coach Goldhammer leaves behind, I’m extremely cognizant of that,” Muncan said in a previous TSL interview. “I’m hoping that my experience and perspective can continue and enhance both the results we expect and the team dynamic that is so crucial to that continued success.”

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