The women’s cross country team jumped three regional rankings, from fifth to second, after a strong showing Friday at Michigan State University’s Spartan Invitational. The Charger women placed third overall and second among Division II schools. Of Hillsdale’s top seven finishers, three were freshmen.
That number could have been four if it included sophomore Arena Lewis, who only raced in one race last year because of multiple injuries, essentially making her a new runner, head coach Andrew Towne ’04 said.
“We’re really happy with how they’re doing,” Towne said of the freshmen. “That was a very solid race for us this weekend.”
Towne said the plan was for the women to run in their workout groups and then take the leash off toward the end and see what they could do, which he said they executed well. While pack running is a strategy most teams attempt, he said the Hillsdale women made it possible because they’re equally talented.
Towne also praised senior Hannah McIntyre’s performance, who placed 10th overall and was the team’s top finisher.
McIntyre, who was just one minute slower than her personal record, said while she felt sick Thursday, she muscled through and was happy with not only the external goals she met but the gritty mentality she maintained.
“We have a really young team, but we have a senior class who has dealt with a whole spectrum of experience,” McIntyre said. “There’s thick talent among the freshmen, which can be unpredictable, but we worked really well together.”
Lewis was quick to credit the freshmen and her team for her performance.
“The freshmen are unreal,” Lewis said. “The team is the only reason I did well. Our team motto is ‘sacrifice,’ and I had to remember all my other teammates are out here hurting, too.”
If there’s one thing Lewis said her team could improve, it’s communication.
The meet on Friday and the rankings released on Tuesday were a nice confidence boost, assistant coach Samantha Kearney said.
The team also got what it was looking for in terms of key areas to work on, she said.
“Right now, the girls run well in pairs, but closing the distances between those pairs will be the focus going forward,” she said.
The next meet will be Sept. 30 in Louisville, Kentucky. Towne said the main focus will be on the little things that add up, such as attention to hydration and running a 5K as opposed to the championship distance, a 6K.
The Louisville meet will expose the team to even more Division‑I competition.
“That’s something that we push no matter the season,” Towne said. “We don’t want to get into championship season and have our first exposure to other elite athletes. We want to be comfortable competing against the very best and see where we stack up.”
McIntyre was also distinguished as the Great Midwest Athletic Conference’s first Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Week — a distinction Towne said wasn’t a surprise.
“She’s definitely off to her best start yet, which is saying something, considering the career she’s had so far,” Towne said of the three-time All-American.
McIntyre, who also received GLIAC Athlete of the Week honors last year, said it’s an honor to be recognized, and she’s excited to compete in the new conference and see how it compares.
“It’ll be nice to be with schools on the same wavelength as Hillsdale,” McIntyre said, referencing how in the GLIAC, Grand Valley State University could dominate regionally because of its large roster. “We have a lot of quality, but just past a certain extent, that can’t compete with quantity. Being in the G‑MAC will just be more of a level playing field.”