Nick Ellis ’16 and George Shoemaker ’18 race their way through the competition at the Westmoreland Park trails in the season opener meet on Sept. 1. (Photo courtesy of LC Pioneers)

Sliding onto the speedway

Cross-country gears up for the Willamette Invitational

By PETER MELLING

They’re off again! The men’s and women’s cross-country teams are preparing to start the second half of their season. After a first half marked by the maturation of the second-year runners and a rash of injuries, the squads will now set their sights on the Willamette Invitational this Saturday. How will the Pioneers prepare for this event, and how will it impact the rest of their season?

One of the key aspects of the Pio’s season has been the maturation of the second-year athletes on both teams. At the Sundodger Invitational, both Blake Slattengren (’18) and Kori Groenveld (’18) recorded personal-best times of 25:52 and 26:19, respectively. When asked about the second-years’ progress, Coach Keith Woodard said, “I think they’re more engaged in team activities, especially on the guy’s side. Those guys have really taken on a leadership role and I think the sophomore women are doing likewise. They’re really stepping up, and I think it makes for an overall good atmosphere.”

On how her approach has changed since last year, Kori Groenveld (’18) said, “Last year I was a freshman and injured for the beginning of the season. This year I’ve had a stronger training base, I know how collegiate cross country works, and I’m much more confident in my expectations for myself and my team.”

Unfortunately, the injury bug has hit the Pios hard this season. Several top runners were unable to race at Sundodger, including Aviva Browning (’16), Angie Epifano (’16), Jeffrey Mullins (’18) and Teresa Stackhouse (’16). On this rash of injuries, Groenveld said, “I think our team has adapted fantastically. There was a rough patch for a while where it seemed like our team was falling apart, but now Angie Epifano, Aviva Browning, and Teresa Stackhouse have mostly recovered from their respective injuries and are getting back into running. Unfortunately some misdiagnosis delayed this, but I believe they’ll be ready to go by conference.”

Another notable facet of this season is that there are only three first-year students on the team. When asked whether or not this makes recruiting a pressing issue, Woodard said, “It’s an issue every year, no matter how many students you pull in. We will be focusing a little bit harder on [recruiting] for next year.”

The Willamette Invitational in Salem, Oregon will give the team an excellent opportunity to prepare for their races down the stretch. Groenveld said, “Williamette gives us a chance to race against some of the teams in our conference we haven’t seen yet and to see how our team as a whole measures up against the conference standings.”

The Pios will return to Portland for the Lewis & Clark Invitational, at Milo McIver Park on October 17.

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