As the women’s cross country season starts, the battle against injuries and tough competition begins for the Wheaton Women’s Cross Country team, who hope to defend their conference championship title.
Head Cross Country Coach David Walford said that at this point in the season, “we focus on each athlete being the best runner they can be with what God has given them that year.”
“If all our athletes stay healthy, I would love for our ladies team to win conference again and improve on their Regional placing from last year,” Walford said.
Physical health will be an important factor, senior runner Ellie Hawthorn said. “We have been plagued by stress fractures, tendonitis, anemia, etc. over the last couple of years which is always a huge bummer,” Hawthorne told The Record, “It would be awesome if we could keep people healthy to give them the best shot at performing to their potential.”
Walford also said, “If we get to the starting line at Conference and Regionals healthy, we will improve from last year.”
At last year’s conference championship meet, Wheaton’s five scoring runners all finished in the top 15 (fifth, sixth, ninth, 10th and 13th respectively), according to the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin’s Women’s Cross Country 2016 Championship results. The sixth and seventh runners both finished in the top 30.
Hawthorne pointed out the impact of year-to-year fluctuations. “Every year changes so much as we graduate runners and bring new ones in.”
According to the Wheaton Athletics website, the women’s cross country team finished 15th at the NCAA Midwest Regional meet. Sophomore Hannah Oechsele was Wheaton’s top finisher with a final 6-kilometer time of 23:24 for 70th place.
Washington University won the NCAA Midwest Region with 66 total points, according to the Wheaton Women’s Cross Country website. Walford said that WashU and the University of Chicago, who finished third in the region, “will be extremely difficult” for the Wheaton women’s running squad to beat.
“Our conference is typically pretty competitive and our region, even more so. You never know what each team is going to look like and who may come out of nowhere,” Hawthorne said.
Junior transfer Aryn Embretson will also be a new addition to the team along with the upcoming freshmen recruits. “I hope to be able to drop a significant amount of time off my previous 6k PR from my 2015 cross country season at Liberty University,” Embretson said.
According to the CCIW Women’s Cross Country 2016 Championship results, two of Wheaton’s top seven runners were seniors last year. Four of Wheaton’s top seven runners were freshmen.
“This year we are bringing in a relatively large group of freshman. We had a large freshman class last year as well, so I am excited to see how they grow and become more confident now as sophomores, as well as see what new energy and enthusiasm the incoming freshman class will bring,” Hawthorne said.
The first cross country meet for the Wheaton Women’s Cross Country team is the Aurora University Spartan Cross Country Classic at the Oakhurst Forest Preserve in Aurora, Illinois at 5 pm on Friday, Sept. 8.
“As a team we had a pretty successful year last year, winning all three conference championships, and I think this year we have a lot of potential to continue to build on that,” Hawthorne said.