With a new season underway, the women’s cross country team is methodically picking off their opponents one race at a time. The Yellow Jackets were fresh off a first-place finish at the Westminster-Fisher Invitational heading into this past weekend’s Bethany Invitational. They did not disappoint as they followed up with a very strong second place performance.
Assistant coach Michelle Cross was puzzled earlier in the week with how to strategize for this particular race especially because the level of competition was going to be elevated.
“Bethany is a hard course to give a specific strategy for,” Cross said. “It’s a difficult course with a lot of hills and it was difficult to tell them a team to beat because there were a lot of Division II schools.”
The Jackets were able to place four runners inside the top 20 starting with sophomore Aubrey Wingeart who placed fifth out of 202 runners.
Juniors Becca Volz and Nicole Shelton placed 14th and 15th, respectively, and sophomore Gloria Reed posted a 19th place finish to aid her team.
For Volz, this year’s squad is more united and that had benniffied them.
“Last year we had a lot of individuals, but this year we have been working on pace groups and now we have packs,” Volz said.
The Jackets top 5 was rounded out by freshman Gwyn Napier who placed 35th with a time of 25:35.
Volz said the focus in practice this week was their pace groups and that helped out the whole team
“I have one freshman in my pace group,” she said. “[Napier] is doing awesome and she is really pushing herself and I think a lot of the freshmen are going to impact the top 10.”
Finishing out the top 10 were sophomore Monica Kolencik, freshman Madelyn Verhoff, senior Mary Beth Cunningham and a pair of freshmen in Maggie Stains and Paige Mattes.
For Cross, the makeup of the team is still relatively the same. However, she said that this year’s team is still relatively the same just younger.
“Last year we had two seniors in the top seven,” she said. “The rest were just freshmen and sophomores and this year it is just one junior [in the top seven].”
Cross also said the coaching staff implanted a new strategy to help the team work together. This strategy, although not unprecedented, was something that can scare a lot of distance runners.
“The day of the race, to ensure they overly focusing on pace ,we pledged as a team to run without watches,” Cross said. “In particular the top pack did a really nice job of paying attention and working with each other.”
An added benefit was that several of the athletes cut off time from the week before, according to Cross.
Next up for the Yellow Jackets is the Lock Haven Invitational Sept. 21.
“We have two weeks to train before our next race, Cross said. “After this past week, we as a coaching staff have a much better picture of where they are athletically and hopefully many of them will continue to embrace some of the lessons this race showed them.”