By: Alice Coughlin
Berry College's Lady Vikings traveled across the country to Seattle, Wa. for their final cross country race of the season. Six harriers represented the "Berry Run Club" at the USATF Club Cross Country National Championships. The Lady Vikings competed in a competitive field of 265 participants with 31 complete teams. The team came in 29th place with a team average time of 24:24 for the 6K race.
The "Berry Run Club" has attended the USATF Club Cross Country meet for the past three years. In an attempt to find a post-season competition to test their fitness, Berry College cross country has joined the experienced and mature competitors from running clubs across the country. During Berry College's athletic transition into NCAA Division III, the USATF meet has become a substitute for a post-season national meet. USATF Club Cross Country National Championships is the most competitive field of harriers that the team faces the entire season which produces incredible times and races for the team.
Of the six Lady Vikings who traveled and raced in Seattle, only three had previously attended the USATF meet. For runners who have not experienced the highly concentrated, competitive field, the excitement can be overwhelming in the thick of a high pressure race. However, every Lady Viking took advantage of the opportunity to race to their utmost potential.
For the three senior runners who raced, their race was not only the climax of their cross country season, but also the climax of their collegiate cross country careers. Their race experiences were occasions to be celebrated, and also savored. For Jenn Cook, Sara Walcott and Lauren Hicks, this was their last time to battle through the woods and the mud for Berry College.
Leading the team was senior Jenn Cook who came in 118th place in a time of 22:26. According to Coach Paul Deaton, this was Cook's, "best and strongest race ever." A season of many victories for Cook in races where she led the team, were the foundation of her successful race at the USATF meet.
Senior Captain Sara Walcott raced to 158th place in 22:52. Walcott ran a similar time to her last race, at the Viking Open, but her race at the USATF meet was an ideal performance which every competitor would want from a race. Walcott ran an even split at the 3K mark and she finished her final 1K of the race faster than her other 1K's throughout the race. Walcott reveled in the excitement of the race, in racing past people and in being a part of a strong pack during the race.
In 233rd place was Lauren Nation with a time of 25:01. This race was personal record for Nation, as she nearly broke the 25-minute mark for the 6K race. This was Nation's first time attending the USATF meet. As a junior on the team, Nation not only had an impressive race, but was able to gain experience on a highly competitive level in order to lead next year's team.
Next for the team was freshman Courtney Barker. Barker was the only freshman from the team to attend the meet. Barker ran to 243th place in a personal record of 25:42. Barker ran a season of successful collegiate races in which she improved at nearly every race. The success of Barker's season has given her experiences that will aid her in her running for the next three years.
A veteran to the USATF meet, Charlotte Collins, was next for the team. Collins finished right behind Barker in 246th place with a time of 25:55. Collins noted this performance as her most successful race of the season. For Collins, this was a season of patiently reclaiming her racing fitness. This final performance for cross country has set up Collins for a track season where she can thrive in her improvements.
Senior Lauren Hicks finished out the roster for the team in 260th place with a time of 27:20. Hicks is a team member who had desired to be a part of the roster that attended the USATF meet since the beginning of the season. In reflecting on the race, Hicks said, "I had a really good race, it was just such an awesome, blessed experience. I'm so happy I was able to run and be a part of this."
The numerical results of their races and the personal significance associated with their races are the perfect combination of success and intangible factors. It is a sought after outcome in a race to have the times look impressive on paper and to also have the race itself mean something more than a number. For the Lady Vikings, they can remember their times, but they will also recall the excitement, the gratitude and the support of a team that is family.
The runners of Berry College cross country will shift gears to track and field for their next race. The Lady Vikings will compete again on Feb. 4, 2012 at the Tiger Invitational at the University of the South.