On Saturday, Oct. 14, the Macalester Women’s Cross Country team will run at the Tori Neubauer Invitational hosted by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in their final meet before the MIAC Championship. As they head into the season’s most important juncture, the team is flying – or, more appropriately, running – high. They enter Saturday’s race propelled by a number of strong performances, including a second-place finish at the St. Kate’s Invitational and a fifth-place finish at the Roy Griak Invitational.
“I think we can continue to edge out teams in our conference, and finish the season with a strong showing at our La Crosse meet this Saturday,” said Lea Davidson ’18, captain. “Individually, I think a lot of our women have some breakout races left in them; the La Crosse meet is a great place for this to materialize. We’re tough, I think we’d like to continue to surprise people.”
The team has been surprising people all season. Macalester graduated a legion of runners last season, including five of the top seven in last year’s pack. On paper, it looked like it could be a difficult season for the Scots, one where they focused largely on rebuilding for the future.
Instead they have thrived. A new cohort of runners has stepped forward to take the place of those that moved on, and have put in strong performance after strong performance this year.
“This year has been important because pretty much for the first time in four years, there’s been a space to step into and to create a new team of runners that were not at the forefront,” said Alia Benedict ’19. “We’ve had a great season so far. I think a lot of people have been very brave, and we’ve had a whole summer of training, we’ve had a whole fall of training for people who do want to fill that gap.” Marlee Yost-Wolff ’18 credits part of their success to one specific workout.
“We’ve been training especially hard this year because so many women came into the season off a summer of hard work,” Yost-Wolff said. “We’ve gone to Battle Creek, a hilly trail network near the airport, more than ever this year, doing a workout we like to call Eating Hills for Breakfast. It’s going to pay off. We expect to beat some regionally ranked teams because, as the season progresses, we just keep performing better.”
Yost-Wolff believes that changes to the team, both in staff and in volume of work, have had a large, positive impact on the Scot’s season.
“We have a wonderful new addition to our team [in] Coach Margaret [Ghering], the head track [& field] coach, who is Coach Betsy [Emerson]’s assistant coach now,” Yost-Wolff said. “As a team, we’ve been doing more difficult workouts this year. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday practices are all intended to be challenging runs. Betsy and Margaret have focused on helping us improve our running form, and we’ve been doing more collective and comprehensive mental training than we have in previous years.”
That improvement has been felt from top to bottom all year. While the loss of the talented seniors from the previous season’s team posed a unique set of issues, it also afforded opportunities to runners who otherwise would not have had them.
“I think there are a lot of people that were in the middle of the pack last year that maybe held back more than they could have because they didn’t have a spot in the top,” Benedict said. “When you kind of have these people in the front, you let yourself sit in the back, and wait for them to finish so that you can go. Now we’re starting to build in from the middle and push up as opposed to just focusing on these seniors that graduated. We’re kind of rebuilding through the middle.”
This team growth has led to the instillment of a new sense of purpose amongst the runners.
“We really pride ourselves in developing an intentional, supportive team culture which compliments our work ethic,” Davidson said. “When the collective buys into the process, into putting in the extra work, great things happen. This year we’ve been doing more pack running, which is important for pushing each other to greater heights. We want to work harder to be better, and for this we hold each other accountable.”
The Scots will push themselves to greater heights this Saturday in La Crosse and again on October 28 at the MIAC Championships in Northfield.