Going for three — Vandal women hoping for third straight cross country title
Going for their third straight title, the Vandal cross country women have high hopes this weekend as they get set to run in the 2012 WAC Championships Saturday in Ruston, La.
Idaho goes into the meet as the heavy favorite after being voted No. 1 in the Pre-Championship Women’s Cross Country Coaches Poll and returning four of the top five runners from last year’s championship team.
“We are very prepared for this,” Idaho coach Wayne Phipps said. “We’ve been getting better and better in practice every single week. If we can just run the way we’ve been running in practice — follow the game plan — I think good things will happen.”
Idaho has not won three consecutive championships in any sport since the volleyball team won three in a row from 1993-1995 in the Big Sky Conference.
Idaho’s four veteran runners — juniors Hannah Kiser, Alycia Butterworth, Emily Paradis and Holly Stanton — came in with low expectations as freshmen in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Vandals, Kiser said.
Instead, Idaho shocked the WAC and took home the 2010 WAC Championship trophy. The following year, the Vandals dominated the WAC again, going into the championship as the favorites in 2011, a year when Kiser was undefeated against collegiate competition until her second-place finish in the championship meet.
“I feel like (experience) plays a large factor because we know what it’s like to win championships,” Kiser said. “We know what it’s like to come back and still want to win one a second time.”
The Vandal most likely to fill the fifth scoring position for Idaho is freshman Halie Raudenbush, who had a strong showing at the Inland Northwest Championships for the Vandals.
Unlike other sports, cross country conference championships come down to one competition — one race. There is no seeding based on regular season results and there is no playoff. Favorites can fall if one runner has a bad race and teams that struggled throughout the season could rise up to win. Consequently, there is not much room for error in the meet.
“Everybody needs to run how they run in practice, in the race,” Kiser said. “Everybody just needs to have a good race.”
New Mexico State will most likely be the team that challenges the Vandals for the WAC crown. The Aggies were voted No. 2 in the WAC in the Pre-Championship Women’s Cross Country Coaches Poll, finishing just three points behind the Vandals. NMSU finished second in the 2011 WAC Championship and the Aggie’s Courtney Schultz was the only runner to beat Kiser in 2011. But if Idaho or NMSU stumbles, any of the other seven WAC schools could pick up the slack.
Nerves will be a factor going into the race, but Phipps said the team treats the championship the same as they would any other meet or practice.
“You know they are going to be really nervous and they are going to be really excited …We try to make things be as similar to a practice setting as possible,” Phipps said.
As usual, the team strategy is for the veteran runners to stay near the front and then make their moves near the end.
“I think everyone’s really excited,” Phipps said. “We’ve worked obviously really hard for this but we feel like we’ve tapered correctly and people are healthy and excited about competing.”
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org