XC team gets in formation

Vassar’s men’s cross country team carries their “mascot,” a deer skull, as they prepare to face some of the best competition in Division III at the Williams Purple Valley Classic. / Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

The Vassar men’s and women’s cross country teams have a lot to credit for their success this season, as many different runners have stepped up to post great times. This past weekend, the men’s squad finished 11th and the women’s crew finished 13th out of the 26 teams that participated in the Williams Purple Valley Classic this past weekend.

Both teams had strong finishers, with the men’s team averaging a time of 27:52.5 over the 8k course and the women’s team averaging 24:46.7 over the 6k course. On the men’s side, Michael Scarlett came across the finish line first for the Brewers, with fellow senior Phillip Brown, junior Luke Arsenault and sophomore Will Dwyer coming in close behind. For the women, it was senior Savannah Wiman who came in first with a speedy time of 24:38.2, with junior Elise Matera trailing only a few seconds behind Wiman and junior Christiana Prat- er-Lee finishing only a few seconds after Matera.

The women left the race this weekend feeling confident with their performance and eager to build on their momentum in upcoming races.

Although the team was missing a few key runners, senior Savannah Wiman thought the team held their own, even though they were up against six of the top 10 teams in Division III.

“I think the team had a strong showing this weekend against some really competitive teams,” Wiman commented. “We have our work cut out for us, but I think we are all prepared to push ourselves and surprise other teams.”

Sophomore Will Dwyer explained that the team walked away with mixed feelings on the race. “I think everyone agrees that it definitely wasn’t our best showing and that we can all perform better, but at the same time it is not a bad place to be at this point in the season,” he mentioned. However, he is confident that the team has many more opportunities to prove its worth throughout the rest of the season.

Head coach of Vassar men’s and women cross country James McCowan echoed the same sentiment. “The Williams Purple Valley Classic was one of the most competitive D3 meets in the nation this season, and it was a tough day to run with high temperatures on a long course. For Vassar, it was a solid showing, but I don’t think we were at our best,” McCowan said. “However it is rewarding to see that we came out in a good position despite that.”

In terms of how the men’s squad gets themselves ready to race, the team has a noteworthy ritual involving the skull of a deer. Dwyer has appreciated this unique tradition of the men’s cross country team since the first day he became a runner here. Before each race, the team silently circles up around their mascot and prepares for the race ahead. “During this circle we take the time to reflect on the coming race. Our coach gives us some last few words of wisdom and we all get in the collective mindset of racing for each other before striding back to the line for the start,” Dwyer explained. “I think it makes us all remember that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that this team has been built by hundreds of runners before us who, them too, circled around the mascot and that hundreds will come after us to continue building a legacy.”

The mindset of building a legacy and running for those that ran before you is something that builds a brotherhood with the members of the team. This brotherhood creates a certain type of atmosphere on the team, one that Dwyer had trouble putting into words. “It’s just such an in-

credible group of people who are gladly willing to sacrifice multiple hours of their day, weekend nights and much, much more to build something together,” Dwyer said. “I’m super grateful for the seniors this year who have done an incredible job leading by example with their sense of commitment and enthusiasm.”

One of those seniors, team captain Michael Scarlett, was also quick to credit the strong history of the cross country program. “Tradition plays a strong role on the cross country team. The mentality we share is that no one is ever racing for themselves, but rather for their teammates and those who laid the groundwork in years past,” Scarlett said. “VCXC has never been a powerhouse, but the team grows stronger each year by learning from the stories and traditions that are passed down. That also means that each season cements a new legacy for the team.”

Just like the men’s team, the women have their own special ways of getting one another pumped and ready to race. Whether it is a pasta party at the seniors’ houses where the team reflects on their week and sets goals for the upcoming race, or just simply motivating a teammate by using a “psych-up” before the race, Matera emphasized how important these traditions are. “It’s great to spend time with my teammates the night before a race to focus our goals together and feel fueled for the next day,” she remarked.

In addition to having pre-race traditions, the women’s team also has a post-race tradition that helps recognize the hard work of certain individuals during a meet. “Post-race, the seniors pick a teammate to award for a great race— whether she ran a personal record or showed a lot of grit,” Matera explained. This tradition promotes an atmosphere of appreciation for the hard work everyone puts in, which can help create a tight-knit team that supports one another unequivocally.

The closeness that the women’s team boasts is something that the men’s team mirrors. Dwyer made a point of noting that the community of runners on his team has influenced the way the team races. “I think the fact that we are a rather small group and that we’re all good friends carries over in the way we train and race,” he said. “Cross-country is a painful sport, to say the least, and knowing that you’re running along and for your friends helps a lot during the race.”

This positive relationship between teammates is not something that is unique to the men’s team, but something that the women’s team also uses to push one another.

Junior Elise Matera highlighted the fact that after graduating some top runners, the style of racing has switched from the team following a lead runner to more of a strong pack with different runners leading each race. “It’s been interesting to see how our team shuffles order in each race, and I think it’s been beneficial as a team for different women to step up each time we compete,” Materaa said.

The lack of a lead runner allows the team to push one another in every practice and race. “The team this year has strong goals to stay competitive amongst ourselves and with other regionally and nationally ranked teams. We have a good chance to make our goals a reality if we keep up the progress we’ve begun to make this season,” Matera explained.

While sometimes it might be difficult to get

motivated to embark on a tough run on a blistering hot day or after a long week of work and practice, Dwyer emphasized that keeping in mind the fact that the whole team is working toward a common goal helps inspire the team to persevere. “It’s something that we stress before every meet or tough workout to help us remember we’re all getting after it together,” Dwyer said. This camaraderie pushes the team to be the best that they can be, because at the end of the day, they are running for each other and to succeed for the greater good of the team.

With such solid opening weekends, it is no secret that the Vassar men’s and women’s cross country teams have something special developing. Both teams have developed their own unique ways of preparing themselves for races and both teams clearly have an incredible support system that helps foster a setting that is bound for success.

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