The Wesleyan Invitation inaugurates men's and women's cross country's fall campaign

It’s time to put on the short-shorts, lace up the shoes, and throw back the Gatorade; 2015 cross country season has arrived and the Cardinals are looking to conquer the contours. Both squads will open up the campaign Friday afternoon at the Wesleyan Invitational.

“Our home course has never been my most ideal terrain,” wrote Eliana Zimmerman ’17 in an email to The Argus. “The upper portion of the course is mostly on a slant and treacherously covered in uneven footing. However, I have raced on far too many cross country courses that involve running around football fields and through suburbia. Our course, at least, is in fields and woods. I love cross country for the privacy of it. With track, everyone and everything is so in your face all the time. I always have felt like I do my best when I’m separated from that. Also, because we are hosting NESCACs, there has been some work done on our home course, which is exciting!”

After only graduating one senior, the women’s side is primed for a successful season. There are no seniors this go-round, but a stacked junior class of seven members, mixed with two sophomores and three first-years should correlate to faster runs and lower places.

“I am so excited for the next two years,” Zimmerman wrote. “We only lost one senior, Rachel Unger, and we have three freshmen this year, all of whom came in in good shape from their summer training.”

Caroline Elmendorf  ’17 capped off a speedy sophomore season with a time of 17:58.74 in the 5000m at the Conference Outdoor Track Champions. Last fall, she ran past the line in 46th place out of 387 participants at New Englands.

Molly Schassberger ’17 was injured for a good portion of last year’s XC season, but avoided the sophomore slump, finishing 86th at New Englands, which positioned her in the top 25th percentile. Schassberger sustained her success in the spring, where she posted a time of 36:56.68 in the 10k.

Schassberger’s fellow juniors Joie Akerson, Christina Hebner, Juli Riggs, and Zimmerman all look to factor into the team’s scoring. After a strong offseason, the Cardinal faithful is excited to see what this class can produce on the course. Last season’s top first-year, Morgan Findley, will also impact the final scoring after jumping up spots throughout the 2014 races.

“Part of the reason this season is so exciting to me is that we have a pretty large pack,” Zimmerman wrote. “Caroline [Elmendorf] and Molly [Schassberger] usually do their workouts together up front, but the rest of the team started this season doing workouts in a large group that stuck together through most of our alumnae race two weeks ago. My team in high school ran like that, and other teams had trouble competing with a strong, cohesive group. Occasionally on runs, one or two people will break off to run alone, but generally, we like to stick together. I’ve always found it mentally strengthening to work together like that; it gives you incentive to stick together even on days when you feel tired.”

Zimmerman also chimed in about her eating routines for races.

“I am an extremely cautious eater and I tend to avoid food for about three hours before exercising,” she wrote. “On race days, I usually eat bread with peanut butter and a sliced banana. At the end of last track season, I ate as much of a giant dark chocolate Hershey’s bar as I could. I like to keep things balanced.”

The men will be in good hands this fall, led by Keith Conway ’16 and Taylor Titcomb ’16. The team needs good performances from these two after graduating Evan Bieder ’15. Bieder qualified for NCAAs in the 5k last spring and was an integral part of the group.

“An expectation that I share with the rest of the team is to toe the line at nationals,” said Tate Knight ’18. “We’ll accept nothing less, and will continue to do everything we can to get fitter, run faster, and stay healthy these coming months.”

Titcomb was the Cardinals’ top finisher a season ago at New Englands, finishing 35th of 373 participants, and the result was good enough for an all-New England Division III recognition.

On pace with Bieder’s times from his junior season, Conway continues to run faster each year and finished the 5000m in a time of 15:06.31, a personal best for him. The senior finished 15 spots behind Titcomb at New Englands, in 50th.

A few runners paved their paths during the spring season, including Knight. He took 95th last year at New Englands, and also posted a 9:33.01 in the 3000m steeplechase a few months ago.

Will Dudek ’17 will look to push on after running a sub four minute 1500m last spring, fellow juniors Eric Arsenault and Reid Hawkins will add experience and depth to the team, and five new first-year runners will join the roster.

“The offseason for us is a summer’s worth of mileage, ranging from 50-80 miles per week,” Knight said. “As a team, we focused on not pushing the pace, and running no more than what was scheduled. Along with strides twice a week, core sessions, and IT band exercises, we were all able to build a strong base for the beginning of the season.”

Knight also likes to keep to a healthy dietary plan while in season.

“Pre-race, I like to keep the meal light, but with a focus on carbs and proteins,” he said. “A perfect meal would be chicken, couscous, spinach salad, and some cereal. After the race I’ll focus more on the protein, chicken and chocolate milk mostly, for a faster recovery so I feel ready for next morning’s 15-mile long run.”

The remainder of the fall season will feature the teams traveling to Lehigh, PA for the Paul Short Run, the Little Three Championships at Amherst, the NESCAC Championship at home for the second time ever (2005), and the ECAC Championship in Williamstown, Mass.

Knight echoed Zimmerman’s sentiments about Wesleyan’s course.

“Wesleyan’s course is certainly one of the most challenging in the NESCAC,” he said. “Between sharp turns, gradual and steep hills, and terrain ranging from soft grass to packed dirt, the course certainly does a number on your legs. Luckily, we get to train on it, giving us a leg up on the other schools when they come for the league meet. Personally, I have pretty long legs, so the turns are tough to speed through, but I am strong on “the wall,” a ten-meter, incredibly steep hill.”

The teams will be vying to have some members qualify for NCAA Regionals and NCAAs at the conclusion of the fall campaign.

“This is the first time in a couple years that we’ve had a large enough team to have two scoring teams (7 varsity, 5 JV),” Zimmerman wrote. “I think given the size and talent on the team, we have potential to place very well in regionals. I think we will see at least one or two girls going to nationals, if not the whole varsity team!”

The men had a strong showing at Lehigh in 2014, finishing 14th of 40 teams. They will look to not only drop places at that event, but also improve on an eighth place finish in the conference. Out of the nine teams that finished ahead of Wesleyan at New Englands, eight were NESCAC schools, showing the strength of the conference.

Last fall, the women’s team took 9th overall out of 35 schools at the Paul Short Run, and the squad hopes to make up some ground on Amherst and Williams at the Little Three Championships. Following a 9th place result out of 11 teams at the 2014 NESCAC Championships, it isn’t premature to hope for advancement in the 2015 standings.


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