Gustavus’ women’s cross country team placed fourth in the Regional meet last Saturday, securing them a spot at the NCAA Division III National Championship meet on Saturday, Nov. 17 in Terre Haute, Indiana.
After winning the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) meet on Oct. 27 by three points over the St. Olaf team, the Gustie women were primed for the Regional race at St. Olaf this past weekend. This was only the second time in the school’s history that the women’s team achieved a Conference title, and the first time ever that four members of the varsity team finished in the top fifteen, receiving All-Conference honors.Those four members were returners Kate Eggers (Sr.), Caitlin Fermoyle (So.), Beth Hauer (Sr.), and Rebecca Hare (Jr.).
At the Regional meet last weekend, the famed four finished 21st, 20th, 16th, and 13th, respectively. Hare led the pack with a time of 22:53.5 for the six-kilometer race, but less than 20 seconds later, Hauer, Fermoyle, and Eggers were across the line as well, cutting the gap down from a 32-second spread just two weeks earlier at the Conference meet. Senior Meredith Bache-Wiig, Junior Lyndsi Schwichtenberg, and First-year Lauren Shurson also contributed to the fourth place team finish as the fifth, sixth and seventh Gustavus runners, respectively. There were 23 full, seven-person teams, plus another five teams in the women’s race, so the competition was fairly stiff.
“[Head Coach] Dale [Bahr] is right when he says that ‘every place counts,’ regarding meets. We would not have had a Conference championship and therefore a probable chance at going to Nationals if it weren’t for every GAC runner racing their best,” Eggers said. “The seven of us running on Saturday are representing the entire GAC team, both past and present.”
Alumna Nichole Porath (Peterson, ‘05) is one of those past runners who witnessed the unique performances of the 2012 women’s team. “ The 2012 team wasn’t on many people’s—if anyone’s—radar going into the [Conference] race. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team race like that, with so much desire and passion. They wanted that Conference title, and they went out and got it even though they were the underdogs and may not have as much raw talent as other teams. They just wanted it more than everyone else,” Porath said.
If the Gustavus women wanted it more than everyone else, maybe they also wanted it longer, too. At the women’s goals meeting held during the team’s “early camp,” two weeks prior to the first day of the Fall semester, the women set their sights on a top two finish at the Conference meet and a top five finish at the Regional meet as a team despite finishing third at last year’s MIAC race and seventh at the Regional meet. Clearly, setting the bar higher paid off.
“I think our accomplishments are the culmination of four years of really fighting for a Conference title. I know that everyone on the team has overcome adversity and disappointments along the way, and I think that having our goals in front of us has helped us to rise above these [disappointments, etc],” Bache-Wiig said.
Eggers also emphasized the team concept, and how every member of the team—even those not racing in the Regional and National meets—contributed to the team’s success. “I hope that each runner on the women’s team realizes that they had an integral part in getting our top seven to Nationals. I am amazed at how much hard work and dedication people put in over the summer, during early camp and at every workout and race during the season. In the four years I have ran here I have never seen the women push so hard for each other.”
The runners’ “push” for each other doesn’t stop at the competitive drive, however. After hearing that the team was flying out just one day prior to the National race, as that is all the team budget can cover, Porath had an idea.
“I’ve flown out to races before and know it’s important to have more than a day to allow the legs to recover, reduce swelling, etc. I wondered if I couldn’t get the alumni together to take care of an extra night’s hotel room for everyone so they could arrive Thursday instead,” Porath said.
Porath was happily surprised to see her plan favorably received. Over 40 alumni, from recent to long-time grads, contacted her in a span of a few days to donate enough money to fly the whole Regional team—which includes the alternate, First-year Courtney Branch—to Terre Haute a day early.
Porath is proud to be a part of such a long-dedicated team. “That’s one of the amazing things about Gustavus Cross Country—the team has always been like a big family. Even eight years after I’ve graduated that is still true. We still feel a strong connection to the team and wanted to show our support,” Porath said.
With only one season behind her, Shurson agreed with Porath on the closeness and dedication of the team she has witnessed as a first-year. “I had no idea what to expect when I first arrived, but everyone on the team was immediately very welcoming, filled with energy and fun to be around. I am very glad that I chose Gustavus because I feel like I belong here; the team is so close and loving, it seems like they are my second family. I love that we all work so hard but we make it fun at the same time,” Shurson said.
Coach Bahr has expressed his pride in the accomplishments of both the men’s and women’s teams throughout the season, saying he was “truly speechless” at how well the women ran at Conference.
“The women are truly team runners. They went out and competed for each other,” Bahr said.
At the awards banquet in Alumni Hall on Sunday, Nov. 11, Bahr talked about how this team has bonded. “From ‘Thrift Store Bowling’ during early camp, to the Cross Country ‘Prom’ at the end of the season, I don’t know any other team who has as much fun as this team does,” Bahr said.
Eggers summed up the season and the general feelings of the whole team, suggesting that the graduation of the seniors does not signal the end of an era, but the beginning of a legacy. “Senior year, winning Conference, going to Nationals— does it get any better? I’m so proud of the ladies this year and am looking forward to keeping up with our program for many years to come,” Eggers said.