WALLA WALLA — With eight runners placing in the top 19, the Whitman College women’s cross country team showed off its talented depth in Saturday morning’s 4,000-meter race at the annual Whitman Invitational at Fort Walla Walla Park.
Senior captain Sara McCune paced the lead pack for Whitman, which hopes to ride its depth of talent to a national championship berth later this season.
The Whitworth University women took top team honors Saturday, sending a message by placing three runners in the top four. Whitworth’s Tonya Turner crushed the field with a strong early season performance, placing first in 14:34.76. That time was more than a minute lower than her nearest competitor.
Whitman sent its own message by having 11 runners cross the finish line before Whitworth’s seventh finisher.
Team scores are based on each school’s top five runners, but Whitman’s surplus of talent will come in handy as the season goes along, Whitman coach Malcom Dunn said. "On any given day we could have a couple runners break out and challenge with the top group."
McCune led today’s Whitman charge, finishing seventh in 15:08.04.
Right behind her came a pack of five -- four of them Missionaries. Emilie Gilbert, a first-year runner, was eighth in 15:27.16, finishing just in front of seniors Heather O’Moore (9th, 15:27.15), Yasmeen Colis (11th, 15:29.50) and Michela Corcorran (12th, 15:31.63).
Running as a pack should pay dividends later in the season, especially as the races get longer.
"I think adding another couple kilometers is only going to help our lead pack, making it stronger as it move up in the field," Dunn said.
He also expects his runners to get stronger as additional training takes hold and initial adjustment to school fades.
"We’re pretty under-trained right now on the whole and I think we’ll continue to get stronger, as we traditionally do as the season progresses," Dunn said. "I don’t think we’ll see the full strength and quality of our team for another three, maybe even four weeks.
"The plan right now is to build off the aerobic base of our runners and continue to add more of the higher end, faster and greater intensity work that they couldn’t do over the summer," Dunn said. "When we infuse that training with race pace, I think they’ll respond by getting faster."
Whitworth took first in the team scoring with 33 place points for its top five. Lewis-Clark State was second with 40 points while Whitman was third with 47. The University of Great Falls finished a distant fourth with 115 points.
Kristen Ballinger, a junior, led Whitman’s second tier of runners, placing 16th in 15:42.52. Katri Gilbert, another first-year runner, was 17th in 15:42.89 while sophomore Sara Levy was 19th in 15:53.13. Jennifer Farley, also a sophomore, was not far behind, placing 22nd in 15:58.98.
Senior Emily Rodriguez finished 27th in 16:19.85 while two of her first-year teammates, Christine Kiely, Lori Mendelsohn and Shannon McCarty were 28th, 31st and 33rd, in that order, with times of 16:23.31, 16:33.83 and 16:40.97.
Others running for Whitman were Kira Peterson (36th, 16:54.37), Claire Baron (37th, 16:56.39), Lauren Davis (39th, 17:05.88), Krista Garrett (40th, 17:07.34), Kelly Jensen (41st, 17:08.09), Kayla Chory (45th, 17:32.66), Meesha Last (48th, 17:54.49),
Mollee Huisinga (49th, 18:23.96), Natalie Fowler (51st, 18:49.92), Hayley Falk (54th, 19:03.53) and Hannelore Ohaus (55th , 19:41.11).
Whitman’s next race comes next Saturday at the Lewis Clark Invitational at McIver Park near Estacada, Ore.