The men’s and women’s cross country teams traveled to Williamstown, Mass. this past Saturday, Oct. 14 to face off at the annual Little Three Championship. Despite individual successes, both teams found themselves at the bottom of the barrel as the day came to a close.
The Red and Black’s third-place finish, behind Williams and Amherst, respectively, followed a pattern that’s taken over the cross-country Little Three Championship for years. Williams has consistently dominated in both the men’s and women’s categories: the male Ephs have won the championship every year since 1988; the female Ephs since 2008. Neither of Wesleyan’s teams has taken the title since Bon Jovi came out with “You Give Love a Bad Name” in 1986.
Yet the Cards are still out there, loving the sport regardless of any result. First year Becky Lopez-Anido, who came in first for the women’s team and 11th overall, had nothing but positive things to say about her first running season on campus so far.
“The team is great and being able to train with a group of talented, dedicated, and positive runners has helped me immensely in my adjustment to running at Wes,” she said.
Julia Mitchell ’19 followed closely behind her, grabbing 13th place overall with a time of 19:51:0. Mitchell has consistently finished in the top two for the team this season, placing second at the Paul Short Invitational and first at the Wesleyan Invitational. Despite her success, she had higher hopes for the team on Saturday.
“Little Threes did not go the way our team hoped,” said Mitchell. “Both as a team and individually, I think we really let Williams and Amherst get the best of us, and didn’t push hard enough on the field. But I think we’re all doing a good job of seeing this as an opportunity to fix the things we struggled with, so that when we go to the big races that are coming up, we’ll be ready.”
Sophomore Sara Pinsonault took the third-place slot for the team the second time this season, followed by Emma Trapani ’21 and Morgan Findley ’18, who finished 18th and 20th, respectively.
All class years pulled out their stops as Rosie Skovron ’20 (20:26.0), Lizzie Edwards ’21 (20:47.0), and Sylwia Lipior ’18 (20:56.0) finished not far behind.
On the men’s side senior Tate Knight took the first spot for the Red and Black, just as he’s done for the past three meets.
“I’ve always focused on consistency with running–whether it’s weekly mileage, mental preparation, sleep, eating, you name it,” Knight said. “I feel that consistency in training translates well to consistency in racing. On the starting line, I trust my legs and body and mind to carry me through the race. I try not to ever consider ‘luck’ when it comes to competing, but rather the preparation that comes beforehand; it takes more than a day to fill a barn with hay.”
Knight placed seventh overall with a mark of 26:44.0. Although he ended the race with a personal highlight, he noted that the team’s journey to the finish line was not an easy one.
“Little Threes, or ‘Little Two’s’ as the Williams and Amherst guys like to scoff, is always a tough meet,” he said. “We’ve got a relatively small team, so racing in a sea of purple can be pretty overwhelming. However, the race is always a good mental and physical check before NESCACs: can I race smart and stay composed? Can I stay in contact with my teammates? Can I dig a little deeper? It’s important to stay engaged in the race, regardless of how your legs feel.”
Fellow senior Connor Cobb finished second for the team, placing 20th overall. Like Knight, he expressed dissatisfaction with the team’s overall performance.
“I think we were disappointed with the result,” Cobb said. “There were some isolated good performances, but overall the outcome wasn’t what we had hoped for. We were missing a couple of our best guys and still recovering from a difficult week of training.”
Sophomore Bill Bajohr finished third for the Cards the second time this season, followed by Shota Nakamura ’19 and Adam Linsky ’20, who took fourth and fifth for the team and 29th and 39th overall.
Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that the teams have struggled with injuries this season. As dedicated as these Dirty Birds are, hard work often comes with a tough price. Many returning members spent their summers running at least six days a week, often tallying 40 or more miles in just seven days. Now that school’s in session, the pain that can come with team practice can affect team gain.
“As a team, we haven’t had a competition yet this season where we’ve had all our guys healthy and able to race,” said Cobb. “This has meant a lot of upheaval in the top few spots, and no real sense of where our performances place us in comparison to other schools in the league. It’s resulted in a lack of cohesion.”
Despite injuries, Cobb believes the team’s unity is easily reframed.
“We’ve done a really impressive job remaining optimistic and staying consistent in our training throughout the season,” he said. “The upside of the unpredictability in the top seven spots is that our potential as a team is likely beyond what we’ve done so far this season.”
As both teams travel to the NESCAC Championship in Maine on Saturday, Oct. 28th, the Cards are ready to run and rumble.
“The main goal is really to be healthy, prepared, and confident on the starting line at Regionals,” Knight said. “It’s not so much a goal as it is a process; our team does a great job of keeping each other in check, looking out for one another, and training smart day after day.”
Zoë Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.