Cross country finishes season at NCAA Regional Championship meet

The Occidental College cross country team practices at Patterson Field at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Thursday, Oct. 23, 2019. Bobby Yu/The Occidental

Occidental’s men’s and women’s cross country teams competed at the NCAA West Regionals in Claremont, CA Nov. 13 for the teams’ last meet of the season.

Occidental hosted the meet at Pomona-Pitzer since Occidental does not have a home course. According to Ellie Furth (senior), having the meet at Pomona-Pitzer gave Occidental a slight advantage over the visiting teams because they have practiced and raced at Pomona-Pitzer many times over the course of the semester.

“We’re used to the terrain and the heat here, which is important in a cross country race,” Furth said.

Both the men’s and women’s teams were hoping to qualify at the meet for NCAA DIII nationals as a team for the first time in several years, Furth said. While individual runners have been able to move on to nationals in the past, the team was determined to extend its season.

“Cross country may look like an individual sport, but building the physical and mental strength necessary to compete requires a strong team,” Furth said.

Tim McClure (senior) said the men’s team also emphasizes teamwork in order to achieve individual success.

“We don’t stop practicing until the last person’s season is done,” McClure said. “There are seven people racing at regionals, with two alternates, but the entire team is still out there practicing.”

Both McClure and Furth were unable to compete in the Fall 2020 season due to the pandemic, but Furth said they were able to keep training individually.

“It was important that we hold each other accountable and motivate one another even when we can’t physically be together. There’s a lot of running in packs and pushing one another, and we tried to recreate that atmosphere over text,” Furth said.

McClure said being back in person to train has helped push the team harder, as it is easier to for the team to support one another during their workouts and create a unified team identity.

According to Furth, the postseason for cross country looks different from other sports, as all teams send their top seven runners to race in the NCAA regional event. Because of this format, results from each individual race are not as important as the overall work and effort put in over the course of the season.

“We’re going out there this weekend to try and see what we can do with the training we’ve put in. If we qualify, that would be amazing, but the team is proud of what we’ve done so far,” Furth said.

The men’s team is coming off of a third-place finish at the SCIAC Conference Championships, with McClure being their top finisher. According to McClure, they were hoping that this momentum would carry them through to a NCAA national qualification.

“On paper, this is one of the best teams Occidental has had. It’s just a matter of all of us performing to the best of our ability at the same time,” McClure said.

Julia Hutchinson (first year) competed in her first NCAA DIII Cross Country Regional Championships, placing 47th overall at the SCIAC Conference meet, but said she is looking to improve for regionals.

According to Hutchinson, the women’s team is composed of a majority of underclassmen, and the upperclassmen helped her and her teammates feel welcomed immediately.

“I feel incredibly supported by my teammates and coaches,” Hutchinson said. “The leadership on the team is strong, and [they] have helped integrate everyone and adjust to being student-athletes. As soon as we arrived for preseason, it was clear that they were going to help us manage being the best runners and students, simultaneously.”

As seniors, McClure and Furth both said that they looked forward to have a great last race as members of the Occidental cross country team.

“Being a part of the cross country team at Occidental has been the highlight of my experience. I’ve grown a lot over my four years, and made so many memories. I want to end on a high note,” Furth said.

According to McClure, being able to run his last race close to home with support from fans makes it more special.

“The entire team and lots of students are coming out to support, since the meet is so close by. The energy that they’ll bring will be super fun and exciting. We’ll definitely be needing it,” McClure said.

At the meet, the Occidental men’s cross country team placed eighth out of 24 participating teams, with Charles Sheh (junior) and McClure placing 35th and 36th individually. The women’s team placed 13th out of 18 teams, with Fiona Jordan (junior) being the first Tiger to cross the finish line 55th overall.

Despite their individual performances, neither Occidental team qualified to run at NCAA DIII Nationals.