This season, the women’s cross country team has three goals: win the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, qualify at the Midwest Regional Championships, and stand on the NCAA podium.
The team will begin the race toward these goals Friday at the Spartan Invite at Michigan State University, in the first of three races where the women accumulate points toward championship season — the last three meets of the six-meet season.
“Everyone has been working hard,” team captain senior Andie Bodary said. “The first meet is always good to see how the team is looking and where other teams are at.”
The new team has three weeks of training under its belt, so the focus for the weekend is “14 pushing one,” said assistant coach Samantha Kearney. At the meet, the team will work on getting its bearings and seeing how well everyone works together.
One structural change makes this season different from previous years.
“There’s more emphasis on head-to-head competition,” said head coach Andrew Towne ’04. “It’s the first year it’s this way. You have to use a computer: It’s a little more accurate, and a little more complicated.”
Up until this year, eight of the 32 qualifying teams were chosen at-large based on regional representation in the NCAA the year before.
This meant the 2016 – 17 team could qualify for championships despite placing fifth because the 2015 – 16 team earned a spot for a team from the region by placing third.
“Last year, we were down from what we were accustomed to,” Towne said.
With five freshmen — including Hillsdale Academy graduate Megan Poole — joining the team of three sophomores, one junior, and five seniors this year, Bodary is optimistic the team will get back on its feet and return to performance levels of two years ago.
“We have a young team and a talented team,” Kearney said. “It’s really exciting. Friday, we’ll see the benefits of summer work.”
Towne mentioned a few women poised to have a particularly successful season. He said senior Hannah McIntyre, a 3-time All-American Champion, is in a better place than ever. Towne also noted sophomore Arena Lewis, who struggled with injuries last year, but is in a position to make an impact for the team. Next is sophomore Addison Rauch, who consistently improved last year and helped displace runners from other teams.
For health reasons, Bodary and sophomore Emily Southgate will not compete on Friday. Bodary said it’s better to sit this one out, so they can be healthy for the next meet.
“One thing I really like about this group so far is they seem to be really focused on the day-to-day process and having fun,” Towne said.
Currently, the NCAA trophies — the only ones the school has, Towne said, proudly — sit in Towne’s office. But as the team works toward its ultimate goal of placing fourth or higher at the NCAA championships, these women may need a trophy case.