Women’s Cross Country’s Unprecedented Success at the Centennial Tournament

Swarthmore College Women’s Cross Country placed third at the Centennial Conference Championships this past Saturday, November 2 in Gettysburg, PA. This is the team’s highest placement in the conference since 2005. The team will be advancing to NCAA Regionals in Lehigh, PA this Saturday, November 16.

The team finished the Conference Championships with a total of 85 points, trailing behind Dickinson, with 50 points, and championship-winning Johns Hopkins, with 23 points. During cross-country meets, each of the five scoring runners receive the same number of points as the place that they finish in. At the end of the race, the amount of points each team member procures are added together, and the team with the lowest combined score wins.

All of the practices during the regular season paid off as the team placed above Haverford College overall in the conference. This was an extra meaningful victory for the team, since Haverford’s cross-country team has been their longtime rival. Haverford came in 5 points higher than Swarthmore with a tally of 90. 

Emma Novak ’21 finished the 6k race in eleventh place with a time of 22:56.9. She received All-Conference honors for placing in the top fourteen. 

Novak acknowledged that beating Haverford was a big victory for the team. Last year Haverford placed above Swarthmore in the Conference Championships, so team members were determined to compete hard with Haverford runners. 

Novak is excited about the team’s unprecedented performance at the Conference Championship. 

“This year, I think as a team across the board we had better times and a very successful Centennial race,” said Novak.

The team averaged a time of 23:30.2, with Nora Blodgett ’22 and Phoebe Whiteside ’20 placing in the top-20 overall. Whiteside finished with a time of 23:16.6 and is thrilled with the team’s success at the Conference Championship. She attributes the team’s results to their strong mindsets heading into the race. 

“Everybody really knew they had to be their best that day,” said Whiteside. 

Whiteside appreciates how head coach Peter Caroll emphasizes the importance of an optimistic mindset and a consistent work ethic when preparing his players for competitions.

“Coach Pete encourages us to be consistent in our training, to trust our training, and then to do the best we can do on the given day,” said Whiteside. “Coach Pete really stresses consistency and I think he sets up a team environment that is fairly calm and focused, and has high expectations but not unattainable expectations.”

Coach Caroll structured an intensive practice schedule throughout the regular season to prepare the team for Conference Championships. He incorporated comprehensive, daily outdoor runs which reinforced what the team members would face during upcoming meets and eventually Conference Championships.

“Two or three times a week we run workouts together at the track or in the woods, and Coach Pete assigns those, and then we do a long run,” said Whiteside. “We’re all very accustomed to running together in workout groups that map onto our position in the race lineup.”

In order to prepare for Conference Championships, Novak recalls that practices shifted from longer-mileage workouts to higher-intensity, target-specific workouts. 

“The way we do it is the beginning of the season is a lot of basework, and then as we get to conferences mileage drops a little bit and we’ll do more targeted workouts, like on the track, faster pace. So we transition from doing mile repeats, tempo repeats, to some pretty intense speed workouts.”

Both Novak and Whiteside utilized meets earlier in the season as opportunities to discover which runners they would likely be competing with in the future. 

“You get an idea of who from other teams tends to be around you, who you can try and race with,” said Novak. “In this race I knew there are these two girls from Haverford, I need to be ahead of them.”

Whiteside also discussed the importance of using earlier races from the season to gauge where one lines up against other racers. 

“We do see a lot of the same teams that we’ll be racing in conferences and in regionals earlier,” said Whiteside. “We go to two fairly large invitationals that let us know where we stack up. So that’s very useful to know who to look for.”

Whiteside mentioned that knowledge of the competition within Haverford’s program helped the team to set goals for conferences.

“Haverford obviously has a really good program,” said Whiteside. “They’re always a close competitor for us, and our goal was to be third, and we thought it was possible, and it was. I think everyone was happy with that.”

Nerves were running high for the team as they approached Conference Championships. Team members used various warm-up and preparation techniques to channel their nerves so that they were able to perform at a high level.

Novak and Whiteside agreed that they find a sense of solitude before the races begin when surrounded by the rest of their team.

“We always do the same warmups, the same drills, and kind of just, being with everybody and knowing that we’re all ready and feeling the energy of the team around me,” said Novak. 

Whiteside also acknowledges that the nerves can translate to an excitement which reverberated throughout the team prior to Conference Championships. 

“There always is sort of a nervous excitement and you want to do well, and you’re invested. I think we were all engaged,” Whiteside recalled.

Whiteside thought that the team performed exceptionally well despite the questionable racing conditions. 

“It was a good day but the course conditions weren’t ideal,” says Whiteside. “It was pretty muddy, and so we had a lot of good performances across the board.”

Novak was also excited for fellow teammate, Sierra Sweeney ’21, who ran a personal record during Conference Championships. Novak admired Sweeney’s ability to navigate the course while battling sub-optimal racing conditions. 

“One of my friends, Sierra Sweeney, actually, ran a PR, which was really exciting because most of us found the conditions of the course, which was very soggy and not great, to be challenging,” says Novak.

The team will run more targeted workouts in the two-weeks of preparation time leading up to Regionals, similar to their practice strategy prior to Conference Championships. 

“We’ve had some workouts this week. At this point, the bulk of the work is done, the bulk of the mileage is done, but we’re doing some faster sort of sharpening workouts, tapering a little bit,” says Whiteside.

The team is currently ranked fifth in the region and will compete at NCAA Regionals this Saturday, November 16.

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