High Hopes for Sagehens in SCIAC Championships

With the men’s and women’s SCIAC Championships slated for this Saturday, Nov. 2, the minds of Pomona-Pitzer cross country (PPXC) runners have begun churning as they envision possible outcomes of the race. Will Ben Girodias PO ’15 and John Fowler PO ’16 work together to overtake everyone in their paths? Will the power trio of Claire Brickson PO ’14, Camille Matonis PO ’15, and Maya Weigel PO ’17 strike fear into the hearts of All-SCIAC hopefuls?

These five names are recognizable to anyone who follows PPXC. Girodias and Fowler have led nearly every race this season, as have Brickson, Matonis, and Weigel, in variable order.

But what about the dark horses? Those who have run eight kilometers two minutes faster than the same distance a couple weeks earlier? Those who have run a six-kilometer personal record (PR) 35 seconds faster than their record from last year? Those who have jumped from 10th place on the P-P squad to become a fourth-place scorer?

Lauren Collins PO ’15 and Corey Purcella PO ’16 have done just that, and will be a key part of Sagehen success on Saturday. Both runners have made impressive strides throughout this season, pushing them out of the middle of the pack to join the group of Sagehen frontrunners.

Collins went through the majority of the 2012 season placing ninth or 10th on the team. During the 2013 track season, she decided she’d had enough of that. She knew the West Regional meet would be held on her home course this year, and she was determined to be one of the top seven Sagehens to run at Regionals.

“When I found out that Regionals was going to be here so [the P-P team was] definitely going, I made the goal in my mind that I wanted to be on the Regionals team. I think that having that firm, somewhat lofty goal really helped me focus on training over the summer and throughout the season,” Collins said. 

“I am much mentally stronger in races than I have been in the past; I am no longer scared of races hurting. I know they will, and I have just accepted that and now I just focus on learning how to push through different parts of mental and physical difficulties,” she said.

Collins’ change in mentality has led her to intensify her training.

“One of my mottos is ‘Never do the minimum,’ whether that is the time range or the number of strides or weight in squats. I try to get the most out of every single practice,” she said.

Her efforts have certainly paid off. At SCIAC Multi-Duals on Oct. 18, Collins was the fourth Sagehen across the line, placing 28th out of 112 runners. Her 6k time, 23:37, was one minute faster than the PR she set at the P-P Invitational on Oct. 5, and a minute and 35 seconds faster than her time on the same course last year.

“The way Lauren has improved is rare and I find it really inspiring. It takes a lot of bravery to set high goals for yourself, and you achieve them through old-fashioned hard work,” Brickson said of her teammate.

Collins hopes to place within the top five Sagehens and to help catapault P-P into one of the top team finishers at the championships.

“It has been amazing moving up on the team. It’s like a cycle: Moving up on the team has made me more dedicated and serious, which helps me move up even more. This team means the world to me, and it feels so good to be able to help with scoring and run with [this] group,” Collins said.

Purcella has shown similar improvement for the men’s team. He has moved from 10th on the team to third on the team, all within one season. At the team’s first meet in September, he was the 10th Sagehen to finish, in 28:50. The next meet at University of California, Irvine produced similar results—he was the ninth Sagehen, in 28:32.

Purcella competed in the open race at the University of California, Riverside Invitational, running a time of 26:56, almost two minutes faster than his first 8k of the season. He was still ninth on the team at that point, though, which kept him from being in the group chosen to run at the Stanford Invitational the next weekend.

Purcella came back with a vengeance at the P-P Invitational, running 26:09 to be the fourth Sagehen to finish, 47 seconds faster than his 8k at Riverside and 42 seconds faster than his previous PR. He attributes his improvement this season to his increased mileage.

“I honestly think that my improvement seems a little bit out of proportion because I had such a slow start to my season. The only definite change in my training has been a bump in mileage … I do think the high mileage held me back at the beginning of the season, but since then my body has become accustomed to it, and I’ve started dropping down to lower mileage, so I’m definitely benefiting from it right now,” Purcella said.

At SCIAC Multi-Duals, Purcella finished third among the Sagehens in 26:47. He’s glad to be a core part of a strong group of P-P runners with his rapid and dramatic improvement.

“I don’t really distinguish myself from the rest of our three through eight runners. We’re all very competitive, and any of us could be up towards the front on any given day … We’ve got a really fast group of guys who will all be up there at SCIACs this weekend, and I’m just glad that I’m improved to the point that lets me be a part of that,” he said.

Purcella’s goal for the SCIAC Championships is to finish within the top 10, and he hopes that the team will “have a really strong pack of four or five guys wedged in between Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’s frontrunners and their last few scorers. That’s what we need to do to win.”

Collins, Purcella, and their teammates are hoping to turn their positive momentum into a strong showing at the SCIAC Championships this Saturday at Prado Park in Chino.

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