Though the Western Washington University women’s cross country team dropped out of the top 25 nationally and out of the top five in the West region, it hasn’t completely given up on this season.
One big reason is the consistent leadership of All-American Katelyn Steen.
Steen took 34th at the National Championship meet last year to lead the WWU women’s team to an 18th place finish, and this season she’s improved even more. At the Viking Classic on Saturday, Oct. 11, at Lake Padden, Steen finished third overall with a 40-second personal best time on the course. She earned Great Northwest Athletic Conference Female Athlete of the Week honors for her accomplishment.
But Steen isn’t solely focused on improving herself. She wants the entire team to improve and qualify for the National Championship.
“She’s one of those that truly wants (the team to improve),” WWU coach Pee Wee Halsell said in a phone interview. “Each runner is focused on their own running, but she’s focused on the team, too. She wants them at the National Championship, too. She doesn’t want it to be just her, it’s got to be both.”
After seeing the team’s results from the Viking Classic, Halsell said he and the team were disappointed with their times. Even though Steen had posted a 40-second improvement, she was frustrated as well.
“She’s upset after the fact,” Halsell said. “They had a team meeting to talk about getting on to the National Championship. This region is a tough region. Three teams in our conference are ranked ahead of us, but you have several other teams like Chico State and San Diego that are in the top 25, too.”
The team meeting wasn’t to point fingers or blame anyone, but for encouragement, Steen said.
“It was pretty short, just to say, ‘Keep training, you can do it,’” she said in a phone interview. “Yeah, we got beat by the three teams and there are faster teams, so we need to do what we need to keep our heads steady and be prepared.”
Steen has keyed in on one area of her running that has plagued her the past few years, finishing strong.
“My main focus is the last 800 to 1,000 meters,” Steen said. “Making sure I stay strong until the end. It’s a huge mental thing.”
Halsell added some more speed work to the end of Steen’s workouts to help her improve the end of her races.
Though the end is what she is focused on now, Halsell has seen Steen grow in many ways her past three years at WWU.
“I think she improved mentally from her freshman to senior year,” he said. “She was competitive already and she’s progressed like you’d want to see someone progress. Anyone who gets to where she is has to work hard. She’s talented, but she has to work. It’s fun to see her leading by example because she’s doing a wonderful job.”
And being an example and continuing to improve are the biggest things Steen says she feels she brings to the team.
“I can help by being positive and encouraging before the race during workouts, before workouts and day-to-day interactions,” she said. “I can help by doing the best that I can to be healthy and rested and by eating well and putting in the work. We all need to step up for everyone as a whole.”
The Vikings get a chance to show improvement from their previous race on Saturday, Oct. 25, at the WWU Invitational at Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale