Last season, the cross country program was the pride of the athletics department, sweeping the athletics-centered Hilltop Awards and earning national recognition. However, with the departure of some of the star runners — including all-star alumna Charlotte Taylor, who graduated in May — the Dons may have to break into a sprint in order to keep pace with their predecessors.
With the Nov. 17 NCAA Championships on the horizon, stakes were high at the Oct. 26-28 WCC Championships, which took place at the East Bay Golf Course in Provo, Utah. The Dons runners posted great times as individuals but couldn’t quite overtake the dominating forces of the Brigham Young University Cougars and the University of Portland Pilots, who came in first and second place respectively in both the women’s 6k and men’s 8k. The Dons, on the other hand, placed third in the women’s race and fourth in the men’s.
Individually, the conference championships highlighted some new and returning talent for the Dons, with German-born junior Tatjana Schulte placing seventh in the women’s race, climbing three places from her finish in the same race last season. As for the men, senior Chris Olley was the stand-out, with a sixth place finish.
Despite their promising performances, the Dons haven’t sealed a place in the NCAA Championships just yet. Last year, the program was an NCAA runner-up, earning national accolades. In order to secure a spot in this year’s contest, the Dons teams will first have to tackle the West Regional Championships on Nov. 9, either earning an automatic bid by placing within the top two teams or being selected as a regional “at-large” team (which typically applies to third or fourth place teams). Currently, both the men’s and women’s teams sit at No. 10 in the West Region, with the men’s team having moved up two spots from last week’s 12th place.
Taking these regional rankings into account, the chances of being sent to the national championships as a team are slim.
However, qualifying as a team is not the only way that the Dons could be represented in the NCAA Championships. Runners can also qualify individually, with the top four runners of each regional championship receiving automatic bids, leaving two individual at-large bids up for the taking.
With a pivotal two weeks ahead of them, the cross country teams will have to keep going the extra mile in order to continue with their program’s national success.
Whether this year’s runners can duplicate — or even surpass — the success of previous years is yet to be determined, but one thing’s for certain: the Dons have some big running shoes to fill.