Grey clouds hung over La Mirada Park last Friday when the Pomona-Pitzer women’s cross country team arrived for SCIAC Multi-Duals. Others might have interpreted the clouds as a dark omen for a team plagued by bad luck, but the PPXC runners knew better. Despite the uphill battle facing them both literally and figuratively, the team stayed confident and ran with grit to a very impressive SCIAC performance.
The PPXC women started the season with considerable depth, and a strong SCIAC showing seemed all but inevitable. By Friday, their momentum had vanished after nearly every member of the top eight runners succumbed to illness or injury. Five of the usual top eight started the race, and the team needed every one of those runners to finish with a solid performance to place among the top three teams and keep their hopes of traveling to Oregon for NCAA Regionals alive.
Instead of wallowing in their misfortune, this motley crew of Sagehens rallied their strength to finish with a 7-1 SCIAC record at Multi-Duals. They fell only to nationally-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and defeated rivals Occidental College by a mere point.
Head Coach Kirk Reynolds was just as delighted with the outcome as the team was.
“We certainly had some pre-race challenges that put us in a difficult situation going to the starting line, but then we had some terrific come-through performances from people who stepped up,” said Reynolds.
One of those was Annie Lydens PO ’13. After sitting out her last two scheduled races, Lydens ran a valiant race on an injured hip to place first for the Sagehens. Lydens’s time off failed to improve the condition of her hip, but she ran through the pain selflessly, knowing the team needed her. She finished 12th overall in a six-kilometer time of 22:24.
Claire Brickson PO ’14 crossed the line behind Lydens in 13th place with a personal best time of 22:36. Despite being sick, Camille Matonis PZ ’15 also ran her fastest time yet this year—22:58—to place 18th. Brickson and Matonis’s times rank as the sixth- and seventh-fastest 6k times in P-P history.
Molly “Beat ‘em or Bust” Cole PO ’16 drew upon her warrior spirit and stepped up when needed. She battled through shin splints and weather-induced asthma to cross the line as the team’s fourth runner. Cole finished 22nd overall, completing the 6k course in 23:06.
Like Matonis, Naomi Wagner PO ’13 ran a bold race while fighting illness to be the Sagehens’ fifth scorer. She placed 34th in 23:30, faster than her time from last year.
“I ran hungry, and not just for brunch this time. I was hungry for victory,” Wagner said of her race.
The P-P women runners have beaten Oxy in every previous race this season, but the Tigers posted a serious challenge at Multi-Duals. In the last three match-ups between the teams, both Roxy Cook PZ ’13 and Alicia Mizes PO ’16 scored for the Sagehens. Not only were Cook and Mizes missing on Friday, but the rest of the P-P women had targets on their backs. The Oxy runners ran aggressive races, knowing the Sagehens were within their reach. Oxy’s top five runners ran ahead of every blue-and-orange runner, except Lydens, through the first mile of the 3.7-mile course. By running smart, steady races reminiscent of the fabled tortoise, the P-P women were able to catch several Tigers by the end. Both Brickson and Lydens placed just ahead of Oxy’s first three runners, which was critical to the Sagehens’ success. Matonis also outkicked Oxy’s fourth runner by 1.8 seconds to help bring the team victory. Since P-P only beat Oxy by one point, the win came down to P-P runners beating Tigers across the finish line.
The top five runners for the PPXC women ran a cumulative time of 1:54:44, which ranks as the fastest cumulative 6k time a P-P team has ever run. The previous record was 1:57:06, set in 2008. The La Mirada course has several daunting hills and is not known for producing particularly speedy times, making the Sagehens’ performance all the more impressive. The PPXC women will face an identical field of competitors next Saturday at the SCIAC Championships at Prado Park. A top-three finish there will guarantee the team a trip to Regionals in Salem, Ore. The Championships will be the biggest test yet of the Sagehens’ mettle, but as they proved last Friday, they are more than capable of meeting the challenge.