WALLA WALLA — The Whitman College cross country team heads into its first dual meet of the season this Saturday against Eastern Oregon University (NAIA) with warranted optimism.
The Missionaries are coming off a solid performance at the Clash of the Inland Northwest meet last Saturday that possessed a predominantly Division I field.
Whitman head coach Scott Shields, who is entering his fourth season guiding the program, is looking forward to the coming season.
“Now that we have one race under our belt, I am super-excited about the possibilities both teams (men’s and women’s) have to offer this year. An unbelievable solid mix of returners and new runners is going to make this a special year.”
Make no mistake about it, this is not a rebuilding year for the Missionary women’s team, even though graduation resulted in the departure of three of the team’s top five runners from a squad that finished fourth at the Northwest Conference meet — just three points out of third — and advanced two runners to regionals.
Not only will the Missionaries have two runners from last season’s top five returning — Erin Campbell and Emily Williams — but they have a bevy of runners who are jammed at the top of the line-up.
“Our strength lies in the fact that we have a bulk of runners who finish together in races, their times are very close,” Shields said. “We’re not a program that is going to have a lead runner who is out in front of the whole conference, but we have a tremendous group of runners who are going to be right there at the end of the race to finish strongly.”
Whitman sophomore Julia Wood was a consistent top-seven runner last season who looks to contend for a top spot, as do senior co-captains Allie Willson and Annie Watters.
“They have all worked hard in the offseason and I look for quality seasons out of them,” Shields said.
They’ll lead a handful of returning and new runners.
The 2013 version of the Missonary men’s cross country team is a mix of solid returning runners and a group of new runners with huge potential, Shields said.
Whitman, which finished seventh at the NWC championships last season, return its top runner in senior Joe Mayo, who has consistently been in the Missionary top three since arriving on campus three seasons ago.
Junior Colin Domonoske has had an excellent off-season and should push Mayo, weekly, for the top spot, Shields said.
Anchoring the team will be senior co-captains Spencer Corwin and Taylor Nelson.
“They’re my true leaders on the team,” Shields. said. “They have both definitely experienced adversity when it comes to injuries. I am very excited and hopeful for them to have healthy seasons because they are the two types of leaders you want with a younger group of runners.”
The Missionaries’ dual meet with the Mountaineers Saturday is at Fort Walla Walla Park. The women’s race will start at 10 a.m., with the men at 10:45 a.m.