XC finishes season in hopes to grow roster

Cross Country completes their season with highest conference finish since 2016 at the 2022 ODAC Cross Country Championship on Sunday Oct. 29 at Kernstown Battlefield in Winchester, Va.

The Cross Country team made strides for the program at ODACs with both teams finishing in the top eight and achieving two lifetime personal best runtimes. The Fall 2022 Cross Country ODAC Competition was held at Shenandoah University on Oct. 29. The women’s team ranked fifth and the men’s team ranked eighth for VWU. 

Two of the runners for the women’s team ran lifetime bests on one of the most difficult courses in the ODAC Conference. Junior Cece Aten finished with 26:02.9 and freshman Elizabeth Smeltzer finished seconds later with a 26:09.2 in the 6k competition. The women’s team finished sixth overall in the ODAC competition which is the highest placement for VWU since 2016. 

The men’s team went into this season with high expectations of breaking into the top five of the ODAC Conference. Though this season’s expectations were not met, the program has progressed since last season, when only three runners were able to compete in ODACs for the men’s team, making them unable to score. 

With the recent addition of Ryan Purrington as head Cross Country Coach and assistant director of Track and Field, there has been an increase in roster numbers for both teams, but the men have been able to double their roster from last year for a total number of twelve runners. 

Even with the lack of numbers on each roster compared to other programs, neither team wanted to treat this season like a building year. They wanted to come out with a strong mentality to see how they can compete against other teams and create an impact in the ODAC for the future of the program. 

Junior June Richardson has been on the team for three years but has been unable to run the past two years due to an injury. This season they have been able to recover from their injury and have run personal records on multiple races. 

“Having a new coach that is really dedicated to the team and making sure that we are doing the best we can helps motivate the team by showing us progress doesn’t happen overnight, we have to work for it,” Richardson said. 

Not only have personal records improved, but the overall team culture has advanced tremendously for both teams. The women’s team has only eight runners on the roster, but the small number forces the women to bond outside of their sport. 

“For the women’s team, we are all best friends and that doesn’t happen a lot. We practice together, we study together and we help each other overall, on and off the course,” Aten said. 

Coach Cameia Alexander explains how cross country can be seen as a solo sport due to the fact that everyone is racing by themselves. But they are not racing for themselves, they are racing for each other and the team they wear on their chest. 

“Cross country can be an individual sport but we score as a team, everyone counts and we need each other to score overall. So to have your teammates push you and work with you, wanting you to succeed just as much as you want it for yourself is vital in challenging competitions,” Alexander said. 

For a sport like cross country, the mental preparation is worth just as much as the physical training before a competition. 

“A lot of our workouts are mental. A lot of our races are mental and once we defeat the mental aspect then we can do anything,” Alexander said. Each team worked tirelessly throughout the season to prepare for ODACs, physically and mentally. 

However, fighting against one of the most strenuous courses in the ODAC competition was no easy feat for the Marlins due to the grueling Appalachian hills at Shenandoah. Smeltzer describes the mental struggle that each runner can face during training for such a demanding course. 

“Everyone hits a wall at some point in their training. You just can’t do it so much for yourself anymore,” Smeltzer said. “You realize you are part of a team and that you motivate your teammates to keep improving their skill just like they motivate you.”

This year, the cross country motto has been “proud not satisfied,” as individual athletes on each team continue to improve their skill and accomplish multiple personal records this season, they are not content. 

“We are proud of our own achievements and are super proud of where we came from but we always want to get better. Every meet and every practice there is always something to learn from whether it be fitness, technique or building confidence as a team,” Aten said. 

As the cross country fall season comes to a close, they approach the next season with even more intensity. 

The goal for the cross country program at the beginning of the season was to just do better than they did last year and to continue improving each meet for the better of the team and the program. Both teams accomplished this goal and have built a work ethic that they can be proud of. Now, they see their potential for the future and soon so will the ODAC leaderboards. 

By Mikayla Szudera