Despite injuries that have plagued many of the top returning harriers, the Women’s Cross Country squad is off to a solid start this season. The Sagehens have already competed in two invitationals as well as an inter-squad time trial, earning a fifth-place finish at the UC Irvine Invitational and a 22nd-place finish at the UC Riverside Invitational.Coming off an exceptional 2008 season that included a second-place finish at the NCAA Division III West Regional Championships in Salem, OR and a 22nd-place finish at the National Championships in Indiana, the team is optimistic about its chances for success in 2009.
Of the seven women that represented Pomona-Pitzer in Indiana last fall, five return this year to lead the remainder of the unusually large squad. With 20 women on the roster, eight of whom are first-years, the women’s team has substantial depth and promise.
“We have an amazing amount of strong runners and more depth than the team has had in a long time,” said Rose Haag PO ’10.
Based on the results of the first two meets of the season, Haag said that qualifying for nationals again this year is an attainable goal for the team.
Head coach Kirk Reynolds said he sees the meets at the end of the season—SCIACs and Regionals—as the important ones and views the early September meets as “pre-season training.”
The picture turns a bit sour, however, looking at the number of returning contributors that are currently injured. Alicia Freese PO ’10, who earned All-American honors last year with her 22nd-place finish at Nationals despite a severe foot injury, remains out with undiagnosed knee problems.
Zoe Meyers PO ’10, another returnee from the nationally-ranked squad, has also been unable to run this fall because of an injured hip-flexor. Shelley Chestler PO ’12 and Kayla Eland PI ’12, also returnees from the 2008 national squad, have been struggling with injuries this fall as well, although Eland was able to compete in last weekend’s UCR meet. Furthermore, Claire Ryan PO ’10, who could have been a contributor this year, is also struggling with injury.
Meyers, however, is optimistic about her ability to compete this season. “I was in good shape when I initially was injured and feel that I have been able to maintain a large amount of my fitness through cross training,” she said.
Both Freese and Meyers have been diligently maintaining their cardiovascular strength. Meyers claims that the endless hours of swimming and biking have given her a “new mental edge” that she will focus into “ferocious competitive energy” once she is finally able to race.
Obviously, the team would be better off if everyone was healthy, said Coach Reynolds, “but you have to dance with the one you bring to the prom.”
Despite the unfortunate early season injuries, the team has managed strong performances in their first two meets. In the early morning fog and humidity that floated across the athletic fields of UC Irvine, Haag and fellow senior Rachael Haislet PO ’10 led the team with 14th and 15th place overall finishes in the 5k race with times of 19:35 and 19:37, respectively. This race was the first collegiate competition for Roxane Cook PI ’13, who asserted herself as a contender on the team with a 28th place overall finish, third among P-P runners. Kate Brieger PO ’11, Megan Farrell PO ’13, Kathleen Shea PO ’12, and Illona Kats PO ’12 filled out the remaining spots in the top seven.
The following weekend, the runners headed out to the orange groves of Riverside to compete in the UCR Invitational. Haag led the team again with a personal best of 18:47 over the 5k distance and was followed by Cook (19:14), Haislet (19:20), and Brieger (19:24). Eland made her 2009 debut and finished fifth for the Sagehens.The biggest surprise of the day came from Annie Lydens PO ’13, who, despite being in the slower open race, finished with the fifth-best time for the Sagehens at 19:41. Lydens, a specialist in the shorter track events, grew up in Singapore and has never competed over the 5k distance before, making her performance on Saturday all the more impressive.Although a 22nd-place finish is not necessarily something to brag about, according to Reynolds the cumulative time of the top five finishers was the fastest ever recorded for the Sagehens at Riverside and the third fastest over any 5k course throughout the team’s history. Of Haag, the Sagehens’ top finisher, Reynolds said, “she ran fairly well, but she and I both know there are improvements still to be made.” Haag “has put in tons of miles and tons of work,” Reynolds said, and is geared to have her best performance toward the end of the season.The runners have this weekend off as they prepare for a home meet on Saturday, Oct. 3. This year, the men’s and women’s cross country teams will be hosting the West Regional Championships on their home course in November, and the home meet next week will serve as a preview for teams in the area.One of the Sagehens’ goals, according to Coach Reynolds, is to reduce the gap between the first and seventh runners. By tightening the Sagehens’ pack, he believes they will be better able to compete with other SCIAC contenders such as CMS and Occidental. In cross country, it is great to have a star runner that can win races, but when it comes to scoring, the fourth and fifth runners are just as important, as meets are scored by adding the places of the top five runners and the winning team is the one with the least number of points.
The senior captains said they are excited about the season and about hosting the West Region Championships at home. According to Haag, “the freshmen have formed a cohesive bond with the rest of the team, and … the team as a whole seems very close.”
“I see our team like I see a bag of cookies … although the unbroken cookies are the first to be eaten, the broken ones that have fallen to the bottom are saved for last, but are still equally delicious,” Meyers said.