Cross-Country gets ready for their home event at Milo McIver Memorial Park
By PETER MELLING
Following their strong performances through their first three events, the men’s and women’s cross-country teams have come back to Portland to host the Lewis & Clark Invitational at Milo McIver State Park on Oct. 17. This will be the Pioneers’ final invite of the regular season, and their last chance to gauge their competition before the Northwest Conference Championship on Oct. 31. How have the Pios prepared for what they will be facing at the invite?
The teams’ health will be key to their success at the invitational. The injury bug hit both teams hard through the first half of the season, with several key athletes going down, like Aviva Browning ’16 and Angie Epifano ’16. Their return has given the Pios a much needed shot in the arm. At the Charles Bowles Willamette Invitational, Epifano returned from injury to take the top spot for the women’s team, finishing 72nd (out of 186 runners) with a time of 19:32. Jeffrey Mullins ’18, after missing the Sundodger Invitational, finished first on the men’s team, placing 28th (out of 143 runners) in 26:03.6 (a career- best time).
“Racing after injuries is a scary thing to me. It is almost impossible to tell if you are fully recovered from an injury, and you are never as fit as you were before you took the time off. You need to race with confidence, but also be careful not to hurt yourself again. When getting back from an injury you need to race with the confidence that you can still do well, but listen to your body and be careful. Better safe than sorry,” said Mullins, on the Pios’ recovery from injury.
“It is always tough to return to racing after missing time due to injuries. We are lucky to be able to continue practicing in the pool while injured, but it is difficult to be confident in my training and trust that my body will hold up during a race. My first race back was a bit of a struggle, but my coaches and teammates are extremely supportive, so I am feeling much better about this weekend,” added Browning.
There is also a degree of familiarity to racing at Milo McIver State Park. Aside from the three first-year runners, this will be a familiar course to all of the athletes. Out of all of the runners currently on the roster, Blake Slattengren ’18 has the fastest time in the men’s 8K at the LC Invite with 26:50.60 in 2014, while Browning holds the best time in the women’s 6K at the invite with 23:46.00 in 2014.
Coming into this invitational, Slattengren set a career-best time at the Willamette Invite (26:03.02 in the 8K), and Kori Groenveld ’18 has continued her emergence, running a 23:25 in the 6K race at the Sundodger Invitational. Both teams seem to be in a great position to improve upon their best times at the LC Invite.
“Milo Mclver Park gives us one distinct advantage on race day, we have a short travel time. Being able to wake up more comfortably is a huge asset on race day,” Mullins said, on the advantages that this event presents.
“The footing can be a little challenging, but overall this is one of my favorite courses. The course consists of two laps for women, and has varying terrain, which creates a great environment for mental focus, at least for me,” Browning said, on the challenges and benefits of the course.
This event is also the last chance that the Pios will have to scout their NWC competition before the conference championship race.
“I think the season is at a complicated spot for the team. Most of us have had a good race and a bad one, and we are starting to dial in where our fitness level are. The LC invite is going to be a good time for us to test a more thought-out race approach. Learning from the previous two races, we can really begin to find what pace and tactics are going to get to most out of our bodies,” Mullins said.
“We are a young team, and a lot of us have struggled with injury. So at this point, any chance to race is exactly that: a chance to race. McIver will get us all a little more experience for the season so we can feel prepared for Conference,” Browning added. The Pios will take to the trail on Oct. 31 for the NWC Championship.