Tina Oprean, a senior cross country runner, has run her way to Malone’s first ever All-American title.
Being Malone’s first year officially in NCAA Division II, this was the first year Malone could have an All-American.
Even though the race was all the way in Spokane, Washington, Oprean had a strong support center cheering her on.
“Well, I just made it individually, so technically I was the only one racing,” Oprean said. “It was me; Coach Hazen; my other coach, Reneker; my teammate, Sara Polatas, bought a plane ticket to come out, which was really awesome; and my boyfriend, Mike Sunseri, who is on the men’s cross country team came; my parents, and his mom. So, I had a good support system out there.”
However, something was missing.
“A lot of people think cross country is an individual sport, but in essence, it is not at all,” Oprean said. “The entire season I was working with my teammates and running with my sisters. I call them that because that’s kind of what this team was all about.”
Oprean said the absence of her teammates at the race affected her performance.
“I’m very gracious that God held my hand through that race because it was very hard running without them and he still made me become an All-American,” Oprean said. “I’m thankful that I had an amazing team this season.”
Jack Hazen, cross country head coach, noted the men and women’s cross country team were disappointed about not qualifying for the meet.
“It was a very big disappointment that our teams didn’t make it,” Hazen said. “I really think that had a detrimental effect on Tina’s performance because she became such a leader this year and became so immersed in how the other girls were doing and how they were responding in a race.”
Even though she placed 38th, Oprean did not run her best race at Spokane.
“I think it was so different for her because she was thinking about herself and how she would respond rather than thinking about her teammates,” Hazen said.
After coaching her for four years, Hazen is proud of the growth he has seen in Oprean.
“Academically, physiologically, but more so coming to the forefront as a team leader,” Hazen said. “Her mantra the whole season was to take care of her girls.”
Sara Polatas, a junior exercise science major and cross country runner, was among the people supporting Oprean as she raced for her title.
“I mean, I wish I could’ve been in the race with her, it was cool to just be in that atmosphere,” Polatas said. “The crowds were crazy.”
Even though Oprean is graduating in the spring, she will continue to motivate the team.
“I think we are definitely more motivated, and going and getting to see it makes me want to work harder to get there next year and to get the whole team there next year,” Polatas said.