Cross country is often thought of as an individual sport. But it is running as a pack and focusing on the team that truly makes a cross country program successful.
“We are doing really well so far this season,” junior cross country runner Sara Polatas said. “We are headed in the right direction and hopefully we can make nationals. As long as we keep supporting each other and relying on each other and pulling one another up if someone is having a bad day, we will continue to build on the early success that we have.”
Senior cross country runner Tina Oprean anchored the Pioneers to an individual first place win, as well as a team sweep for the second straight year. Oprean also received NCAA Division II national athlete of the week after her team’s success.
“Our senior leaders help foster good team synergy, and there’s a lot of trust that’s going on,” assistant cross country coach Matthew Reneker said. “The steps we are taking will keep us in the right direction. We think of it the same as football; just conquer this play. For instance, do this race right, eat this meal right, sleep this night right and we will continue to grow.”
Reneker also feels that another big part of the team’s success is due to the focus on the team and not on individual success.
“The commitment level for the team has grown and a lot of them are over performing and achieving for the group,” Reneker said.
Growing physically and mentally has been an ongoing process for the Pioneers this season.
“Every lady has improved and stepped up,” head cross country coach Jack Hazen said. “This year we don’t have as big of a team as we have had in the past, but they all are focused. It’s all about the team. In cross country it takes five to win, and they have been focused on that since the beginning.”
In a recent ranking, the team went from being 14th in the nation to being ranked 12th. As the weeks go on, the team continues to prove that they are more than capable of competing with every team, especially after being unnoticed in preseason rankings.
“The ranking motivated them because we know we’re better,” Hazen said.
Although the rankings have displayed the Pioneers on the lower spectrum, the women have enjoyed the underdog approach.
“Honestly some people don’t like being ranked,” junior cross country runner Madison Schuler said. “We like being the underdog, actually, and that helps us compete. Our main goal is to always place one spot better than what we previously did in a big meet and we want to do better at GLIAC this year (last year finished 6th), then go to regionals and make it out of there and then do our best at nationals.”
Pioneer women’s cross country will compete next in the GLIAC championship meet Saturday, October 26. They will be facing against the best teams in the nation, such as Grand Valley State.