Starting their season on the right foot, the Hillsdale College Womens’ Cross Country has been training hard in anticipation of their first meet, the Calvin Knight Invite, which will be on Sept. 4 in Grand Rapids.
According to head coach Andrew Towne, the team is prepared to run against a greater number of competitive teams, many of which are returning after pausing for COVID last season.
“For us it’s always just about excellence and making sure that we’re doing everything we can to be as successful as we possibly can, whether that’s a cross country course or the classroom,” Towne said.
In races, the women will be focusing on the pack method. Pack running, which is running close together, means that fewer opponents have the opportunity to break up the group and take away consecutive rankings.
“You certainly want to have a really good front runner,” Towne said. “But then, how strong can your pack be?”
The runners are coming into the new season with a summer’s worth of training under their belts. Junior Meg Scheske, a returning runner, spent her summer training in Colorado, making the most of the challenge that comes with running at a high elevation.
“Me and multiple other girls on the team are feeling really strong right now,” Scheske said. “A race will be the real test of, where are we at as a team?”
Though the team hasn’t had their first race of the season yet, the women have already bonded through many team traditions, including a sleepover and a goal-setting bonfire.
One tradition the women use to motivate themselves during races is to yell R.H.O., which stands for “Rip Heads Off.” The phrase represents the fierce mentality a runner must assume during difficult moments of a race.
“It’s just because with cross country, it can be this interior mental game with this quiet intensity,” Scheske said. “It started as a joke… but then it became an actual thing that we say.”
Now entering her junior year, Scheske said she’s looking forward to sharing her wisdom and experience with younger runners.
“I just feel like you’re never quite ready for the next stage of life,” Scheske said. “In terms of mentorship to the other ones, that’s something I feel very passionate about, especially in a sport like cross country that requires so much of you physically.”
Freshman Abby Scherer said she appreciates having older runners like Scheske on the team to guide her in her first season on the team.
“I kind of took some of the younger high school girls under my wing and helped mentor them in leadership, so it’s nice now being a freshman being mentored instead of being the mentor,” Scherer said. “It’s been very humbling in the fact that these girls are so competitive and very honoring to each other.”
Looking ahead to the first race, Scherer and the rest of the team aim to push themselves to the max.
“There’s a lot of girls around me that have really helped push me, especially in practice recently,” Scherer said. “I just want to take all the pressure off myself, especially for the first race on Saturday, and go out there and see what I’m capable of.”