With the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Championships fast approaching, the women’s cross country team is doing everything they can to prepare. The NEWMAC Championship race will be held on Saturday, Oct. 29 in Northhampton, Massachusetts. The Pride will likely be led by senior Marie Harrington, who has been a frontrunner throughout the entire season.
The team is looking forward to the big race, after an eighth place finish in last year’s championship. According to the annual NEWMAC Women’s Cross Country Preseason Coaches’ Poll, Springfield was projected to rank sixth in the 2016 season. The Pride have come a long way since preseason and have been working hard every day to make this a reality.
Prior to the start of the season, Anna Steinman was named the head coach for both the women’s and men’s cross country teams. Though an unusual situation, she took on the challenge and it has done nothing but bring the program closer together.
Before, the two teams were fairly separate and each one did their own training. Now, both groups are friendly with each other and the constant support has helped push everyone to perform even better. In addition, the team has been running a lot more mileage than last year, and it has definitely been impacting their results. Many athletes have earned a “PR,” meaning that they are achieving their own personal records. Given that, the Pride have been improving as individuals, that puts the team in a strong position overall going into the NEWMAC Championships.
Unlike many other sports, where a team must do well enough during the regular season to earn a playoff spot, cross country is different. Instead, all runners on each NEWMAC team will get an opportunity to compete in the championship, providing an entirely equal playing field. There are no playoff rounds, brackets, or potential upsets for this postseason; there is only one final race. Because the championship was never a matter of “if” but rather, a matter of “when,” the team has been preparing for their chance at victory all season long.
It is extremely complex to prepare for a race of such high stakes. Some may underestimate how difficult it is, considering that all athletes automatically have the opportunity to compete for the title. However, Springfield will compete against eight other teams all at the same time, essentially as if completing an entire playoff series in one day. Instead of focusing on one opponent at a time, like in other sports, the women’s cross country team must prepare for an entire conference, a task that is mentally exhausting. Plus, as in any sport, the whole season is riding on one competition and any mistake could cost them the title.
Preparation is vital. Fortunately, the Pride did not have a race last weekend, so they were able to begin getting ready for the NEWMAC Championship. They capitalized on that break to rest, in order to minimize any lurking injuries and gear up for the physically and mentally demanding competition ahead.
Senior Katie Benoit knows this situation well, and is excited for her final NEWMAC Championship. “We just had an off weekend so it was good to have some rest. We are starting to tapper so we should run strong,” Benoit said. “The course at Smith is tough, but we have run it before this year.”
The Pride raced at this course during their very first meet of the season, where they placed fourth out of 10 teams. Given that it was at the beginning of the season, Springfield is hoping to use that experience and do even better now. There were five NEWMAC teams that competed at that race, so it will be interesting to see how they rank this time with all nine conference teams in attendance.