Willcoxon sprints into rookie season at VC

Freshman Meghan Willcoxon has left the competition in the dust as she continues to finish with the fastest time at every 5k meet for the fall season. Photo By: Sam Pianello
Freshman Meghan Willcoxon has left the competition in the dust as she continues to finish with the fastest time at every 5k meet for the fall season. Photo By: Sam Pianello
Freshman Meghan Willcoxon has left the competition in the dust as she continues to finish with the fastest time at every 5k meet for the fall season. Photo By: Sam Pianello

Meghan Willcoxon has had an explosive start to her first season on Vassar’s women’s cross country team. So far, she has finished every single meet with the fastest 5k time for the Brewers. She may be finishing quickly now, but at first it was difficult to convince her to begin running competitively.

Willcoxon was first introduced to running seven years ago, in middle school. “My main role model and inspiration has been my older sister Kaitlyn. She first introduced me to running when I was in seventh grade, and she pushed me to keep up with it (even though it was extremely challenging at first).”

Meghan’s sister has helped her along in developing a love for running, but her sister is not the only source of athletic inspiration that Meghan has said she draws upon in her running. “Throughout high school (and now college) my teammates have greatly inspired me to do my best.” She has stuck with her sport with the help of her sister and motivational teammates, but also because of her love for the adventure and energy that is involved with participation in cross-country. “I love the atmosphere at these races: There are so many dogs and tents and people just generally having a good time, giving the races a really fun vibe. I also like that every race is different because so much depends on the terrain and the courses,” she wrote.

For Willcoxon, success in athletics is not unfamiliar. She is a graduate of Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown, Pa., where she made a name for herself in her running career. After starting cross country in her sophomore year, she showed great promise that manifested itself in many impressive achievements, starting with earning a varsity letter every year afterwards.

At the state cross country championship she placed 32nd individually, and this helped her in being named “Most Valuable Athlete” in her final year with the Bucks. Not only did her high school recognize her prowess, but her league as well when she made second team for league championships for both cross country and track.

Her success has carried over to her running career at Vassar, starting with the team winning the Ron Stonitsch Vassar Invitational on Saturday Sept. 6. Willcoxon helped the team to victory by posting an impressive time: 19:33.45, which beat her time on the same course a week earlier by a minute. After a tough loss to New Paltz last season, the team was happy to come out on top.

Both teams had identical scores of 40 points each, but because another contributing Vassar freshman, Eliana Tyler, ended up finishing at a higher spot than a New Paltz runner who finished sixth, VC got the win for the Invitational. VCWXC also placed fourth at the Saratoga Invitational that took place on Sept. 13th. Vassar was the first team to have all five runners cross the finish line, and Willcoxon was ahead of the pack.

She finished with a time of 18:05 in the 5k race. This put her in 16th place overall and marked a personal best for Willcoxon, beating her previous time by over 1:30 at a meet that featured strong runnings programs of the likes of St. Lawrence University, Williams College and New York University.

Willcoxon was the fourth best freshman finisher at the invitational. The women’s team ultimately placed fourth overall, but were only four points away from the third slot.

Willcoxon and her team’s successes are reflected in her positive views of the team and the coaching staff, “It’s been going really well. It’s been so fun meeting and getting to know everyone on the team,” Willcoxon noted. “The coaching and training is much different than high school, and I’m already noticing improvements. The team is in a really good spot right now, and we are looking forward to big things in the future.”

This future is reflected positively in a recent USTFCCCA poll, ranking the Brewers at number 20. This is the highest ranking for a team that went unranked in the 2013 season, of which there were four total rankings. Vassar’s women’s cross country team also was ranked fourth in the Atlantic region, one of the most competitive areas for women’s cross country, behind Liberty League rival St. Lawrence University, as well as NYU and SUNY Geneseo.

However, all of this early success did not come without some sacrifices over the summer. To make sure she would perform well coming into her first season as a Vassar athlete, Willcoxon followed her coaching staff’s advice to prepare, “The coaches gave us general guidelines for the summer, so I followed the training plan,” Willcoxon recalled. “My main preparation involved getting in the miles, getting sleep, and staying healthy.”

According to Willcoxon, there are more differences in the VC program than just the summer training program. “At Vassar, there is a lot more communication between the coaches and the athletes,” she wrote. “There is also more emphasis placed on doing exercises beyond just running: we spend time on drills, weight lifting and stretching”.

It seems apparent that these new techniques and hard work have paid dividends in increasing Willcoxon’s abilities, as she has broken her personal best several times already this season in weekly pattern that has  boosted the scores of the Vassar women’s cross-country team at each invitational. If this pattern continues, one can only wonder how far she and the rest of the team will go this fall season.

Her teammate, senior Viviane Ford, noted that Willcoxon’s success on cross country has been directly related to her strong work ethic. “Ever since Meghan showed up at preseason, I was super impressed with her dedication,” Ford wrote in an emailed statement. “Our coaches always talk about putting in the extra 1%, basically doing the drills correctly and making sure that you really are giving it your all, and I’ve noticed that Meghan always gives the extra 1%.”

Willcoxon work ethic in training also translates to the academic realm. She is interested in pursuing cognitive science and economics, but is currently undecided.

Her favorite class so far is intro to cognitive science. “It has been a great experience so far, I’m learning so many new, interesting things, and some concepts are completely blowing my mind,” she noted.

Willcoxon was choosing between other Seven Sister schools, as well as Connecticut College and Sarah Lawrence College, but luckily for the women’s cross-country program, she chose Vassar instead.

She knew classes would be engaging and challenging here; the strong academic standing of Vassar is part of  what brought Willcoxon to Poughkeepsie., “I was looking for a small liberal arts school that was grounded in a lot of history and tradition,” she explained. “I really liked Vassar for its academics and history, but it also gave the impression of having a strong community. Everybody here is so nice and super approachable.”

Outside of cross country, Willcoxon is enjoying her first weeks at Vassar. As a naturalist, she has taken note of the College’s picturesque campus. “I also really love just being on campus. It’s so beautiful and there is always something to do – even if it’s just taking a stroll around Sunset Lake,” Willcoxon noted.

Willcoxon free time is mostly spent in the outdoors, and she plans to join the VC Outing Club, and has already ventured outside of the Vassar bubble in what has been her favorite part of Vassar XC so far as the team has explored new places perform in their sport. “I love going to new places to run, so traveling as a team to Lake Minewaska and Mohonk has been so much fun!” she exclaimed.

Her team appreciates her performance and are glad to contribute to her success with her infectious positivity leading the charge.

Ford praised Willcoxon’s positive attitude and the way in which she contributes to the team as rookie. “She’s focused on the workouts and the times she needs to hit and she’ll always complete the runs with a smile on her face,” Ford wrote.

Senior teammate Nicole Woodworth echoed this sentiment. “Meghan goes the extra mile—literally and figuratively—putting in the 1% that makes a difference,” Woodworth wrote in an emailed statement. “She has a positive presence and isn’t shy about pushing the pace.”

“One of the reasons why Willcoxon is awesome is because her love for running is so apparent,” Ford continued. “She always has a positive attitude and knows that she needs to put in the work in order to succeed. And believe me, she’s putting in that work. We have a really incredible freshman class and we’re a strong team with pride.”

It seems that thus far Willcoxon has been contributing to this strong team and helping them in creating success in the coming future.

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