Women’s cross-country has had a successful season this semester, but one runner in particular has drunk deeply from the chalice of success. Senior cross-country runner Cassidy Carpenter is proud of the team she was a part of this fall, as she explained in an emailed statement. “This year was the best the team has done since my freshman year three years ago [in 2011]. And I think that this is really indicative of the supportive, inclusive and kind atmosphere we have on the team. But in addition to the positive atmosphere, everyone is really motivated, competitive and willing to work hard to reach our team goals and to improve their own PR’s [personal records].”
While the Vassar College women runners had plenty of reasons to be happy with their overall season, Carpenter was a standout competitor in her final season with the Brewers. Carpenter scored points at the Atlantic Region Championships for the Brewers for the fourth time in her career. In 2011, as a freshman, she placed third for Vassar and repeated her third-place finish in 2013. This year, she placed first for the Brewers and finished 16th overall with a time of 22:16.8. This made her the third fastest woman, by time, in Vassar College history over any 6k course. More importantly, though, it earned her a spot at the 2014 NCAA Division III National Championship. Carpenter was just one of seven individual qualifiers out of the Atlantic Region.
Carpenter is humble about her performance and didn’t think she’d pull out the stellar times she did this year, “I really wasn’t expecting to do as well as I did this year. Of course it’s always been such a dream of mine to make Nationals, but I had no idea how close I was going into this year’s season. I’ve always ran the miles just like everyone else and done the work in order to improve so it’s very exciting to see all that work manifested in great performances and huge PRs this past season.” Carpenter was one of the Brewers’ constant scorers this season, finishing first place for the team in four of her five races this year.
This consistent success led Carpenter to Nationals this year which took place at Kings Island Golf Center in Mason, Ohio. Carpenter was looking to cross the finish line under the 22-minute mark for the first time and finish as the fastest women’s cross-country runner in program history.
Unfortunately, Carpenter’s race at nationals wasn’t quite the day she was hoping for. She ran a 23:34.7 and placed 147th overall, as she was bogged down by traffic as she was one of the minority individual runners in the race, there without her team and on a very mucky course after a spat of freezing rain from the night before.
Despite not achieving the time she was hoping for, her success this season and the fact that she qualified remains a positive point for Carpenter. “It was so amazing to go to NCAA’s this year and [that is] something I will always remember. I don’t feel great about [my] race at NCAA’s; but, I [am] try[ing] to focus on the process and taking it step by step and enjoying the little things along the way that made the whole journey exciting and worthwhile.”
In a statement made to the Vassar Athletics website, Carpenter’s coach, James McCowan echoed his runner’s sentiments. “Nationals is a tough meet, especially as an individual without the support of the team she has trained and raced with all season, and Cass wasn’t quite back to 100% after a cold earlier in the week. No excuses, it just wasn’t the day we were hoping for.”
And he reflected upon her cross-country career at Vassar, “That said, I’m very proud of Cass and her season…She really put it together this year. Cass has always been an impact runner for us in November, all four years, and this year she came into the season with 12 months of great, injury-free training…that background really allowed her to uncover some of the greatness we know is there and I know [nationals] just left her hungry for track.”
Carpenter is certainly going down in the record books as one of Vassar College’s best female cross country runners, but all her accolades are even more impressive considering that she only started running competitively about six years ago. “I actually haven’t been running that competitively for very long. I’ve always loved running but up until my junior year of high school I played competitive soccer. Then I tried cross-country for fun and realized that I was way better at cross-country than soccer, but it wasn’t until track of my junior year that I formed a passion for this sport and quit soccer to focus more on running.”
Carpenter will be back in action with the Brewers later this spring during the track season. Looking forward, she explained how she likes to prepare before competition and plan to do her best. “I definitely race way better when I have a relaxed mindset before. Even during my best race at regionals this year, I tried not to think about goals, times or place the week before. Because at that point, there isn’t much you can do training-wise, so I just try to maintain a mindset of running for the pure joy, with a goal to just go for it and challenge myself. That’s not to say I don’t have goals, I just try to not let them scare me. Although this is often easier said than done, so before races I usually listen to upbeat music and dance a little bit with my teammates. Recently, I’ve been listening to ‘Burning Down the House’ by The Talking Heads right before races.”
Despite all her running accolades, Carpenter is just as motivated and busy with her academic life. “My major is Science, Technology and Society [STS for short] and I am also pre-med. So, this semester I am doing research on the protein p53 that is critical in cancer and I’ve also had an amazing opportunity to watch surgeries at the hospital this semester.”
If it seems like Carpenter’s schedule is jam-packed, that’s because it is, but the senior explained how she is able to make the balancing act work. “It’s a very challenging and delicate balance, and often times I do feel like either my running or my school suffers because of the other. But, [I’ve become] really good about planning ahead and ultimately, school is always the priority.”
In spite of the difficulty, Carpenter couldn’t imagine not running at Vassar. “I chose to be a student-athlete because I absolutely love running competitively. From the day I was born, I’ve always been super active and the thought of not doing something active sounds horrible. Also, I believe there is a huge benefit to challenging yourself mentally as well as physically. I’ve really loved that part of being a student-athlete at Vassar-there’s something really empowering and refreshing being able to challenge myself in two things that in some ways are very different and complement each other well, but in reality require the same sort of intensity, work-ethic and lifestyle.”
Beyond cross-country, Carpenter, a Calif. native, was drawn to Vassar College due to its academics and class sizes. “I always had a dream of going to school on the east coast and my mom suggested I apply to Vassar. I was really convinced on my visit by the emphasis on academics and just the educational opportunities here. The biggest selling point was the small class size. Being pre-med, I love the fact that I don’t have to take Orgo in a lecture hall with 500 other students, but instead my professors offer weekly review sessions and many opportunities to meet and talk one-on-one.
In terms of what she’s learned in her last four years at Vassar, Carpenter had this to say. “While I do love the season changes here, I have realized that I love the California weather and lifestyle more than I knew.”
Carpenter is currently training for her position as a distance track runner for the Brewer women. She’s hoping to make it back to Nationals and do even better to end her career at Vassar. In closing, she left younger and future student-athletes with some advice: “Success comes to those who work the longest and the hardest. And sometimes that work is hard and not fun every second, but ultimately you do it because you love it. For the great majority of us it’s the last time we can do sports at such a competitive level so have fun and go for it! Don’t get so intense that’s it’s not fun, but take advantage of this opportunity to pursue your passion.“