This season, the Vikings’ women’s cross-country team made university history finishing sixth at the NCAA Division II Women’s Cross-Country Championships.
Western was welcomed to Joplin, Missouri, with cold wind and rain, creating a familiar running environment for the Vikings. With 32 teams competing, the start line was packed with runners ready to do their best, senior Taylor Guenther said.
The race on Saturday, Nov. 21, was 6 kilometers in distance and had the following results:
Senior Taylor Guenther finished 24th with a time of 21:09.40
Freshman Tracy Melville finished 52nd
Junior Brittany Grant finished 63rd
Junior Sara Taferre finished 104th
Sophomore Lillianna Stelling finished 114th
Sophomore Shawna Troupe finished 115th
Sophomore Alexandra Laiblin finished 169th
“They had a great season and it was a great accomplishment, best in school history,” head coach Pee Wee Halsell said. “I’m very proud of the young ladies. They had a great season and that was a great way to end it.”
At the end of the race, Western initially thought they placed seventh behind Alaska Anchorage. But when the final results were tallied up, the Vikings actually finished in sixth place above Alaska Anchorage.
Western returned to Bellingham with heads held high, knowing that they had beaten a school record and had set the bar even higher.
When the Vikings arrived at campus, the team heard a crowd chanting “W-W-U” from behind the athletic department building. To the Vikings’ surprise, there stood members of the women’s cross-country team that didn’t travel, along with the men’s cross-country team.
“Our whole guys team and the girls back home had a little parade for us,” Guenther said. “It was super cool.”
At the end of last season, four of the team’s top runners graduated. The Vikings knew they had to step it up for this season, junior Sara Taferre said.
“We ended up being a lot deeper as a team,” Taferre said. “In the past, we really haven’t run together, we’ve been really spread out. At nationals, there were four of us within 20 seconds of each other and that never happens.”
During the summer, Western trained hard, pushing to focus on the “little things” while they trained. These little things included eating right, taking care of your body, weight lifting and getting enough sleep, said junior Brittany Grant, who finished 79th at nationals.
This season, the Vikings worked hard both individually and as a team to push one another and become stronger.
“They grouped together and worked well as a group,” Halsell said. “We just got better every meet.”
The Vikings knew they had to finish within the top five teams at regionals to qualify for nationals. Western ended up ranking fourth and finishing second, Taferre said.
This second-place finish allowed the Vikings to move forward to the NCAA championship and head to Missouri along with Alaska Anchorage and Seattle Pacific University.
“Overall we just had a really good progression from the beginning of the season to nationals, without a lot of hiccups,” Guenther said. “We all just smoothly progressed to our peak, so we really didn’t have a lot of injuries.”
Western finished off the season in Missouri on a very high note. With that mindset, the Vikings look toward the upcoming track and field season, which kicks off in the spring.