Nick McAdam, Tangerine Clerk
The Utica Pioneers women’s cross country team is seemingly on top of the world right now. The squad has opened their first three contests with first place finishes against SUNY Poly, Alfred University and Mitchell College.
Utica’s recent invitational in Connecticut resulted in five Pioneers occupying the top five places. Runners include Renee Lewis, Jessica Ostrowski, Jenessa McCabe, Kristin Daino and Kaitlyn Stinson who finished first with a time of 19:15.50.
The team is picking up from where it left off last season when Utica won the Empire 8 Championship. Players such as Stinson believe replicating that success is the biggest goal of the current team heading into this season.
“Personally, I have some pretty big goals I would like to reach by the end of the season,” Stinson said. “But, ultimately if I could just improve on my times from last year and place higher up at regionals I’ll be happy. Coming off last years season and winning the Empire 8 Championship for the first time in program history, I think that I speak for the whole team when I say that winning that title again is one of our main goals.”
While Stinson has individual goals in mind, she thinks the team can improve as well.
“Most of us are generally in pretty good shape, so working on the little things and gaining more speed would be something we could improve on,” Stinson said.
Fitness both mentally and physically is a common theme within this Pioneers team. Stinson’s comments about fitness were echoed by head coach Eric Parker, who believes that conditioning is a big factor in who wins the Empire 8 title by the end of the season.
“The squad came into the season in great shape. They got after training over the summer,” Parker said. “Associate head coach, Sam Catterson, and athletic assistant, Ashton Villeneuve, have done a great job with the training plan and giving the team great race plans on race day. The training plan will fine tune everything physically, as we get closer to the championship portion of our schedule.”
With a championship in the bag from last season, the Pioneers are now looking to reach not only the Empire 8 Championships, but the Atlantic Regionals in New Jersey, along with the NCAA Championship out in Wisconsin.
“We’re aiming to win E8 champs, both men and women, and qualify multiple people for the NCAA championship out in Wisconsin,” Parker said. “ I think we can crack the top ten regionally, in arguably the best region in the country, for men and women teams as well.”
It’s a final push for glory for some players, as Utica’s current team is comprised of nine juniors and seniors. To put that in perspective, the Pioneers only have six first-year and sophomore runners.
Lewis is one of those seniors who is looking to savor every moment in her final year in orange and blue. She completed a personal best time back in 2015 at Hamilton College by posting a time of 19:24.6.
“One of the things I am personally trying to do is simply embrace my last cross country season and cherish it for all it’s worth, “ Lewis said. “ I’m also striving to run the best that I can each race, and hopefully improve my racing times along the way.”
The English major gave another word of advice to the other members of the team, she wants them to stay healthy and always strive for more. Lewis believes that’s a big part of what got the Pioneers the trophy last season, and what could be the key to the future as well.
“Running is a physically and mentally challenging sport, especially when it comes to racing,” Lewis said. “It is easy to feel discouraged sometimes or to allow negative thoughts to creep into your mind. Yet racing is all about pushing past mental barriers and trusting yourself. This will all hopefully aid us in our quest to defend our Empire 8 title!”