Four in a row: Women’s cross country once again PAC champions

Jackets edge upstart Geneva squad for fourth consecutive championship

If any team was going to stop Waynesburg University from winning a fourth straight Presidents’ Athletic Conference women’s cross country championship, Geneva would have been a good bet. 

Before the season, the Golden Tornadoes were picked to finish third in the preseason poll behind the Yellow Jackets and Grove City. During the season, Geneva competed closely with Waynesburg at both the Westminster Invitational and Oberlin-Regional Rumble. 

To no surprise, the teams from Greene and Beaver Counties took the top two spots at Saturday’s championship meet. Waynesburg didn’t get swept up in a tornado, however, and the Yellow Jackets, turned a three-peat into a four-peat, with beautiful Lake Brittain in the background at Westminster.

The Jackets edged Geneva by four points, with Waynesburg accumulating 36 and Geneva 40. The next closest team, Grove City, had 84 points.  

“We were trying to keep score throughout,” coach Chris Hardie, who won PAC Coach of the Year for the fourth year in a row, said, “and realized that we were losing about halfway through the race by a point or two.”

The Jackets turned it on during the back end of the race, and one runner in particular stole the show.

Sophomore Aubrey Wingeart has been leading the Jackets all season. She’s been the first Jacket runner to cross the finish line in every single meet, and Saturday, she picked up her second individual win of the season, beating Geneva’s Ellie McGillivray by 14 seconds.

For Hardie, Wingeart, already a star, is only going to get better, and is cut from the same cloth as past standouts such as Julie Gerber, the Latimer twins [Katie and Emily] and 2017 PAC champion Angie Marchetti. Hardie even went as far to say that, even as a sophomore, qualifying for nationals isn’t out of play for the PAC Runner of the Year. 

“She’s just at a really high level right now,” Hardie said. “We’ve had some girls at that level in this program, and I think she’s in that same trajectory as Julie or Emily or Katie and Angie. So we’re real excited about the next two weeks and even three weeks for nationals if we can get her ready enough to a good point in her career and ready for the next race.”

After crossing the finish line, it looked like Wingeart had barely broke a sweat. Although she won the race without much trouble, Wingeart, like many of the Jackets, were uptight before the championship. 

“I was very nervous coming into this race,” she said. “A lot of my teammates were very nervous. It was a very tight race.”

Wingeart was at the head of the table for the top seven runners that made first team All-PAC. Also at that table for Waynesburg was junior Nicole Shelton. Shelton placed 12th overall at last year’s championships, good for second-team all-conference. She improved upon that drastically finishing in sixth. Shelton said that her finish was somewhat surprising given how she started the race. 

“When I started out the race, I was probably somewhere in the 20s,” Shelton said. “Everyone went out so fast, so it was kind of surprising.”

Shelton’s slow start was indicative of the team as a whole. For Hardie, despite Waynesburg’s success in big time situations, anxiety still played a factor at the beginning of the race. 

“I think in a race like this you always worry about your emotions and your nerves,” he said. “So we wanted them to settle in the first two, two and 1/2 miles, and just worry about how they felt in their pace, and not worry about what the other team was doing. So they did that, and then they made a move after that. That was kind of a big thing was to kick it in the second half of the race.”

Junior Becca Volz and freshman Madelyn Verhoff earned second team all-conference honors. Volz finished in ninth with a time of 23:57.23, while Verhoff took 13th at 23:42.18. This is the third championship team Volz has been a part of with the first two wins coming as an underclassmen. Volz sees herself as more of a leader on this championship team.

“I feel that I’m more of a role model for everyone to go after… So that is honestly an honor to be someone they look up to,” Volz said. “Especially being able to have won three championships and be a part of each team that won.”

Although Shelton is in the same class as Volz, she wasn’t on the 2017 championship team, as she spent her freshman year at Division II Shippensburg. For Shelton, this year’s win felt similar to 2018, which was another close triumph, a three-point win over Grove City.

“[It’s] very much the same, because it was the same idea of [coming down] to every single runner, and everybody had to run a good race in order for this to be possible,” she said. “So [we had] the same nerves, and then the same happy feeling when we ended up winning it.”

Sophomore Monica Kolencik and junior Gianna Pugliano rounded out the top seven for Waynesburg. Kolencik [24:49.44] took 15th, and Pugliano [24:51.11] finished in 17th. 

Senior Kathryn Thompson didn’t have a remarkable finish individually, placing in 36th. But Thompson was unique in that she is one of five seniors to be there for each of Waynesburg’s four championship wins, and unlike her four classmates, Thompson has been taking classes in South Carolina, not Southwestern Pennsylvania, through the Marine Biology program and an opportunity offered at Coastal Carolina. But, she’s still been able to run for Waynesburg, as she is technically a student, this was the second time Thompson competed with her teammates, and also the last. 

“I wasn’t expecting to be able to run with them this year,” Thompson said. “Last year I ran like it was my last year, and this was almost like a bonus year. Just being able to be here and spend time with everyone and getting to run with them again has been really good for me. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Hardie knows Geneva won’t be going away. The Golden Tornadoes have many top runners, including McGillivray, who is just a sophomore, coming back. Looking ahead, to win a fifth straight championship, Waynesburg will likely have to fend off Geneva once again.

“They put together a really strong group on the ladies side, and almost beat us today,” Hardie said. “Maybe if we ran it again, they probably would. So I think they’re really good, and they’re progressing. They have everybody coming back next year, so we have to work hard in the off season to get ready.”