On Saturday, Sept. 3, Wesleyan Cross Country alumni gathered at Long Lane Farm for the Alumni Three Mile Race. Among those present was Amby Burfoot ’68, who became the first collegiate winner of the Boston Marathon in 1968.
“It was cool to run with him,” Sara Pinsonault ’20 said. “He did start eight minutes early….”
Burfoot’s teammate Bill Rodgers ’70 won the Boston Marathon four separate times, along with 18 other marathon victories. Their fellow teammate Jeff Galloway ’67 ran at the 1972 Olympics. Burfoot’s significance did not go unnoticed by the Cardinal first-years.
“There was some pressure,” Kevin McMorrow ’20 said.
The run carried more than symbolic meaning for the current team.
“For the freshmen, it was a little nervous,” Grant Van Inwegen ’20 said. “You’re letting the coach know what fitness level you’re at. The rankings aren’t really clear-cut because it’s early in the season….There’s competition of who’s going to be in the top seven, who gets to go to nationals, who contributes to the team. I personally felt some pressure when everyone went out fast.”
Another first-year, Rosie Skovron ’20, also felt the pressure.
“It’s intimidating, but it’s nice to have a community,” she said.
Pressure comes down from all sides on the new male Cardinals. Last year, Williams took second place at NCAA Division III Nationals with Amherst finishing 10th, putting pressure on Wesleyan’s runners to match. Pressure comes from within the team as well. That same year, the men took home 11th, topping all previous performances. Two senior male runners,Will Dudek and Reid Hawkins, have watched steady improvement and expect continuation.
“The team has been getting better every year since they came,” McMorrow said. “Last year was the best we’ve ever had.”
The team has improved rapidly. In 2013 and 2014, the Cardinal men did not even compete at nationals. In contrast, last year, six Cards finished among those top 275 runners, and two in the top 40: Dudek at 37th and Taylor Titcomb ’16 at 36th . However, the losses of Titcomb, the team’s top runner, and Keith Conway ’16, who placed 101st, leave holes to fill.
The female Cardinals have had a slower but significant climb themselves, placing 20th at the New England Championships in 2013, 16th the next year, and 13th in 2015. Seniors Joie Akerson, Caroline Elmendorf, Christina Hebner, Juli Riggs, Molly Schassberger, and Katie Scruggs return to continue the ascent. Meets looming large this year are Wesleyan’s own invitational on Saturday, Sept. 17 and the Little Three and NESCAC Championships on Oct. 15 and 29, respectively. The New England and NCC championships follow these on Nov. 12 and 19.
The first-years understand their responsibilities well.
“Right off the bat, you’re expected to give your all and show constant improvement,” Hannah Gillis ’20 said.
Van Inwegen agreed.
“Before the season, the seniors brought us together for a few meetings and made it quite clear that this is a serious sport,” he said.
Connor Sexton ’20 explained the role of the seniors on the team.
“[The seniors] see what the coach doesn’t see,” he said.
Coaches have been calculated in pushing the runners to new limits, though are careful not to exhaust the first-year runners.
“Coach knows exactly what you need,” McMorrow said. “He knows what shape you’re in better than you. Take his advice.”
Despite the intense atmosphere, amicable relationships form. When asked to describe the seniors, the first-years spoke adoringly of their new role models.
“Will is long, tan, and handsome,” Van Inwegen said.
“Reid is also handsome,” Sexton agreed.
The pre-season meetings were familial, helping make the team feel more like a community than just a group of runners.
“There was emphasis that it was as much of a mental sport as a physical one; that we could come to them if we had personal troubles,” McMorrow said.
Matt D’Aquila, a senior at Lower Merion High School and visiting prospective athlete, appraised the team.
“This team seems really tight knit,” D’Aquila said. “When I was on my run with [the team], they seemed like [they’d] been friends forever.”
These new runners have adopted a cautious but positive tone in trying to predict the team’s success this year. Worst case scenario, the new Cardinal runners will at least have a group of people who are obligated to not be too mean to them.