Western Washington University’s men’s and women’s cross country teams have made a habit of qualifying for the NCAA Division II National Championship meet. The women’s team will race in its sixth National Championship meet in seven seasons and the men will compete in their eighth straight National Championship on Saturday, Dec. 6, at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park in Louisville, Ky.
Only two women’s runners have gone to every national championship meet the team has qualified for over the past four years. Seniors Katelyn Steen and Haley O’Connor will lead the women with this being their third nationals meet in four seasons. The women’s team did not qualify in 2012.
O’Connor, one of the team captains, leads the team vocally, coach Pee Wee Halsell said.
“She’s our team communicator on the women’s side,” Halsell said in a phone interview. “She’s very methodical about training.”
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On the men’s side, senior Tabor Reedy is the only runner making a third trip to the national meet. As a captain for the men’s team, Reedy could also be one of the top runners as they had only a one-minute difference between the top five on the team.
“Tabor has been in there, he’s not our top runner, but he’s been solid,” Halsell said. “This is going to be his best year ... he was fighting nagging injuries, Achilles, knee things, that he’s gotten better at taking care of.”
Injuries have been a constant in Reedy’s career, but he doesn’t think he’ll look back on his career with regrets, he said.
Before the season, Reedy and the other men’s team captains talked to the team about a positive atmosphere and culture for the team, which he says he thinks helped the team’s pack running mentality.
“We all have the competitive spirit, but they’re all your friends, so you don’t want to drive them into the ground,” Reedy said in a phone interview. “That (small) spread has been our strength. Pack running is something we practiced and is a team strength.”
The women’s team took sixth at the West Region championship meet, but O’Connor said they have room to improve.
“Conference was a high point, we had a really good race,” O’Connor said. “Regionals was rough. We had a couple of bad races, we weren’t as good as at conference, so we didn’t place as high as we wanted. We’re looking forward to running like we did at conference.”
A few of the women’s runners were dealing with illness during the regional meet and didn’t perform as well as they’re capable, Halsell said.
“We still have a bit (of illness), including the coach,” Halsell added. “They have a really good shot. They were within three points of Simon Fraser at conference, and Simon Fraser won the region, so I’m excited about their chances.”
The course at Sawyer Park is mostly grass, and a heavy amount of rain has fallen in Louisville this week, Halsell said. Those conditions may benefit WWU’s men and women, who train around Lake Padden and in the Chuckanut Mountains.
“We’re used to running in the rain so much compared to some of the other teams from California and other areas that have been having nice weather,” O’Connor said. “But all the other schools are here and have seen the course, so they know what to expect.”
Reedy added: “We have a tough group of guys who are good at overcoming adversities like inclement weather.”
In last week’s top 25 polls, WWU’s men were ranked 18th and the women were tied for 23rd. The goal is to beat their rankings, but Halsell sees even bigger possibilities.
“I think they’re both capable of being in the top 10,” he said. “Everything has to come together. There are a lot of good teams here.”
Steen may challenge for an individual national title in the women’s race, which would be the first in WWU cross country’s history.
“I think to run a good, solid race is what I expect from anyone, whether that be Katelyn or the No. 7,” Halsell said. “I hope they take the vision we had and go out and have confidence in their training.”