Trinity cross country finishes as runner-up at championships

Runners grab awards at Live Oak Park

The 2021 Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) cross country championships saw Trinity take team runner-up awards for both the men’s and women’s divisions, with multiple runners receiving all-conference medals for their results.

On Saturday, Oct. 30, the conference championship at San Antonio’s Live Oak Park saw cool weather throughout the morning, with temperatures never breaking 60° throughout the event. Jackets and sweatpants were common to see, but the atmosphere was electric as the first signs of fall began to appear.

Senior Abby Blackwood and first-year Will Saloney led the Tigers on the day, with juniors Elaine Kaster and Ben Whittemore in support.

Colorado College won the meet in both the men’s and women’s divisions, with first-year Elliot Singer setting a new NCAA Division III Record in the women’s 6k run. Senior Josh Fry led a 1-2-3 finish for the Colorado men, who also won the team title.

According to Blackwood, the race was a challenge that progressively got harder.

“It felt good, but definitely a challenge,” Blackwood said. “The first 2k lap of the course felt smooth, but then it got more challenging throughout. It was kind of technical [with] a bit of hills.”

Despite grabbing her best finish of the year (fourth place; her previous best was sixth), Blackwood was especially enthusiastic about the team’s performance.

“The team fought really hard, and everyone did what they needed to do. I was proud of the team,” Blackwood said.

Whittemore, who finished 10th on the course, was disappointed in his performance, despite finishing just three seconds off of a personal record pace in the 8k run (4.97mi).

“The weather was great,” Whittemore said. “The course was nice, but it just didn’t fall our way today.”

Trinity ran at six meets this season, including the SCAC Championship, with four of them being in San Antonio. Hosting a meet can have many advantages for a runner but headaches for a coach. Organizing a meet involves everything from booking a location and forming a route to hiring the staff necessary to run the event. As head cross country coach Emily Daum points out, this can sometimes be a burden rather than a blessing.

“The preparation is very challenging on the coaching staff side of things,” Daum said. “It takes time away from coaching to put on a meet.”

Just as the home-field advantage plays a role in most sports, running in a familiar environment can boost athletes. Chiefly among these benefits is the crowd, which showed out in force on Saturday. Tiger fans, including athletes on Trinity’s track and field teams, were the loudest of everyone around the finish line at Live Oak Park.

“Having all of the support we had today made a big difference,” Daum said. “There were a ton of Trinity fans here, and that definitely is part of the reason why it was worth it. It takes a lot of effort to have a meet, but the fans and the support are worth it.”

Home meets are an advantage for athletes, too, according to Blackwood.

“It’s nice to be able to sleep in your own bed the night before, and we had a lot of fans come out and support,” Blackwood said. “It’s always nice to have a lot of Tiger fans and support with people cheering you on through the race, especially when you’re in the middle of a cross country race wanting to have it over with as quickly as possible. It was great not having to travel so much and be able to have fans come out and support us.”

One aspect of running that is always important is experience. Trinity has seven senior athletes across the men’s and women’s teams who provide a wealth of knowledge to younger athletes. However, there can still be issues with getting up-to-speed in collegiate athletics, according to Daum.

“It’s challenging because half of our men’s team is freshmen,” Daum said. “They’re really looking up to the upperclassmen for some guidance, and we’re still figuring out the ropes on things. We had some things on the men’s side that we’re going to go back and look at and evaluate so that it doesn’t happen again. However, on the women’s side, we didn’t have a single freshman in the top group; there’s a lot of seniority there.”

Now that the conference championship race has been decided, it gives everyone a chance to look back at how they improved through the season. For Blackwood, a normal length season played a big role in providing her an opportunity to grow.

“This is my first full cross country season, even though I am a grad student,” Blackwood said. “I ran in the spring season we had at the beginning of this year since it got pushed back due to COVID. It was a really short season, and we only had two meets, so this is the first real ‘normal’ season. I’d say a lot of it is just seeing how much more I can push myself. I think it’s been awesome to see people keep improving and practicing hard throughout the team and see the results through the races.”

Whittemore, on the other hand, reflected that the men’s team did not see the progress they hoped to throughout the season.

“This year has been a little different,” Whittemore said. “We started well but kind of hit a wall, a little bit. I don’t know why, but I just feel like we didn’t progress as well as we were hoping. We started on a good foot at UIW [the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio], but it just seems like we didn’t progress as well as we were hoping. I think we’re going to take this experience and use it to make us better and bounce back next year, both in track and the next cross country season.”

Overall, both teams showed significant improvement, with first years and seniors showing out in a big way throughout the season. Daum was pleased with the effort and enjoyed watching the runners.

“There were a few people who stepped up when we needed them to,” Daum said, “Runners like Jacob Ontiveros and Joseph Herlin, who weren’t in our top five before, had some really great standout races. It was a lot of fun to see, and I was really proud of those guys in our top seven.”

On the men’s side, four runners (Will Saloney, Ben Whittemore, Joseph Herlin and Eli Karg) medalled, with Whittemore also earning the SCAC’s Elite 19 Student Award. The award honors the student-athlete who is an example for runners on and off the track. This year’s award went to Ben Whittemore, an accounting major with a 3.65 GPA. It marks the third consecutive year that a Trinity athlete has won the award on the men’s side (Keaton Holt, class of ‘19 & ‘20/’21). The announcement drew a massive cheer from the Trinity crowd, even though the awards ceremony took place after most spectators had returned home.

On the women’s side, Trinity had five runners placed within the top 10, with Abby Blackwood, Elaine Kaster, Madison Habeck, Ellie Catron and Anna King all earning an all-conference medal.