Haverford’s Cross Country team goes a long way
By Katie Greifeld
It’s 11 a.m. on a Friday. Most HaverfordCollege students are sitting in class, awaiting the weekend. However, for a group of nine Haverford cross country runners, the weekend has already started.
Unlike most of their peers, they won’t be spending it studying and catching up on sleep. Instead, they’ll spend 22 of the next 40 hours crammed in a van, traveling to and from Indiana. Members from the women’s team, known as the Bees, and the men’s team, known as the Goats, are journeying to the midwest this weekend.
A handful of Goats and Bees wait outside the Haverford campus center for the van to arrive, gearing up to battle for the best seats. Sophomore Molly Allen, 19, tightly hugs a stuffed bee as the late November wind picks up, and shifts her weight from foot to foot.
The van pulls into view, carrying Goat seniors Brian Sokas, 21, and Elliot Schwartz, 21. Sokas, wearing a captain’s hat, lays down the trip’s ground rules as his teammates pile into the van.
“You will refer to me as Captain Robocop at all times, and Lampshade (Schwartz) as Commodore Lampshade,” Sokas told his shivering troops. “Also, if you touch this hat, you’re walking there.”
Once everyone is settled and buckled in, the van embarks on the 11 hour journey to Bloomington, Ind. The crew will spend the night at a 2012 Goat alumnus’ house, before driving an addition two hours to Hanover, Ind.
The event that these runners are traveling across the country to see is the NCAA Division III Cross Country National Championships. Seven runners from the Haverford men’s and women’s teams respectively will compete against the best Division III runners in the nation, a showdown that they have all been training for since June.
Excited chatter fills the van, while people pass up the mixed CDs that Sokas requested they make.
“Play my mix first!” Allen requested.
“Ugh, I don’t know how much Kesha I can stomach,” Sokas replied, choosing to instead play Bruce Springsteen.
With only nine people fit into the 12 person van, this ride will be luxurious compared to the vans departing in the afternoon. Two more full-capacity vans will depart from campus at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., each containing a mixture of current and alumni Goats and Bees.
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For the Bees, this year’s Nationals trip is particularly important – the opportunity to run at this race did not come easily. This year, the Bees did not place high enough at Regionals, held the previous weekend, to guarantee them a spot at Nationals. Instead, the Bees had to rely on an at-large bid to secure them a place on the starting line.
It was the luck of the draw that got them here, and every member of the team knows it. It has been a long, hard season.
The Bees’ problems started in June, when top returner Fiona Hendry, class of 2016, announced that she was transferring to SyracuseUniversity. To make matters worse, the Bees’ second top runner, Katie Balmer, class of 2015, told the team that she was going abroad to Germany during the fall semester.
Including the seniors who had graduated in 2013, the Bees had lost four of their top runners, making Nationals prospects look bleak.
Despite the rocky road that got them there, the Bees were in Indiana and ready to run. The varsity squad had flown to Indiana on Thursday, to make sure that they knew every inch of the championship course.
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It’s moments before 11 a.m. on Saturday, and the frigid Hanover air is completely still. Suddenly, the starting gun fires, and the crowd of cross country die-hards erupts as 280 sprint away from the starting line. Hundreds of
screaming fans decked out in their teams’ colors already line the 6,000 meter course, paying little mind to the blue-jacketed race officials trying to push them back.
Among the numbers are the Haverford Bees, spread out along the course in a pre-planned cheering strategy. The girls are wearing bumble bee costumes over thick winter jackets, necessary for the bite of the 35°F Indiana morning.
All eyes are trained on Haverford senior and captain Emily Scott, an All-American hopeful. To earn this distinction, Scott will have to place in the top 35 of the race. Scott, with her honey-blonde bob and 5-foot frame, is easy to spot.
At the one-mile mark, Scott races by with her signature short stride and laser-focused gaze. Arm warmers hug her forearms, and she wears white gloves to combat the cold. Amidst cheering for their captain, Bees anxiously count the runners ahead of Scott.
“I think she’s 35,” senior Nora Howe, 21, reports, squinting in the cold sunlight.
“No, she’s top 40, but I don’t think she’s in the top 35 yet,” Allen replies. Several other Bees murmur in agreement, before focusing on the rest of the Haverford runners who are starting to pass.
By the second mile, Scott is fighting hard to stay within range of the 35th spot. Though she would later recount how badly her legs burned up the course’s short but brutal hills, the exertion doesn’t show in her face. At the crest of every hill, Scott looks how she always does: calm, concentrated, and ready to fight.
At every turn, there is a Bee waiting to scream encouragement and count places for their captain. However, by the 4,000 meter mark, the Bees can tell that Scott is struggling. To the outside eye, she looks great; however, her team members can tell by her lowered knee lift, the slight hitch in her arm swing, the way her eyes flicker to meet those of her cheering teammates.
Scott’s All-American dreams are extinguished in the last kilometer of the race. Competitors start rallying for spots, kicking past Scott. Her eyes darted back and forth, seeing each runner that passes her. While she knows she won’t make top 35, this doesn’t stop her from putting her head down and sprinting down the homestretch.
Scott crosses the finish line in 54th, officially marking the end of her collegiate cross country career. Fallen and exhausted runners litter the finish line; others collapse into the arms of friends and family, panting or crying. This isn’t Scott’s style; she steps around such a display, turning back to look for the rest of her teammates.
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Sweaty and shivering spectators rearranged themselves in the vans, ready for the long drive back to Haverford. The estimated arrival time is 2 a.m., meaning that there is ample time to discuss the race.
The Haverford Bees placed 17th in the nation, a disappointing result compared to their 13th place finish last year. For the first leg of the drive, much of the van discussion is focused on Scott’s dashed All-American dreams.
“I cannot believe she didn’t make it,” Allen said. “It just seems so unfair.”
“Especially with it being her last race,” junior Margaret Duffy, 20, agreed. “Out of anyone, she deserved it.”
Disappointment hangs in the air, and the van falls quiet. After a few moments, senior and co-captain Flora Berklein, 21, speaks up.
“All-American was a tough goal, but she fought like hell the whole race,” Berklein said. “Didn’t get it, but still ran a race to be proud of. 17th [for the team] is a good finish, especially for a team that potentially wasn’t going to make it to Nationals in June.”
The van falls quiet once again, as her teammates digest what Berklein just said.
“I think this season was one that our team needed to have,” Allen said. “I think being knocked down a few pegs is good for us – we’re going to be stronger than ever next year.”