The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Team Race to Victories of all Types

Grinnell entered with high hopes and left with heavy hardware after dominating the Midwest Conference Cross Country Championships at Oakland Acres Golf Club in Grinnell’s backyard this past Saturday, Nov. 2.

Two conference championships for the men’s and women’s cross-country teams; two repeating individual champions in Sarah Burnell ’14 and Frank Canady ’14; two Coach of the Year Awards for men’s coach Will Freeman and women’s coach Evelyn Freeman. The awards podium at the Oakland Acres Golf Club was a veritable sea of scarlet and black.

Sarah Burnell ’14 and Alosha Southern ’17 keep pace at the Midwest Conference Championship. Photograph by John Brady

The weather was perfect, the town was watching and throngs of returning cross-country alumni cheered alongside current Grinnell student that had come out to show their support. In other words, there was no better way for the teams to win.

“This weekend was one of my great memories in 34 years here at Grinnell,” men’s coach Will Freeman recalled. “It’s a dream for me.”

For the men’s team, this triumph marked their 16th league crown in the past 17 years as the Pioneers outscored runners-up Lawrence University 35-58. In addition to Canady defending his individual title, three other scoring runners for the team finished in the top 10: Evan Griffith ’15 in sixth place, Ben Tyler ’14 in eighth place and Sam Krauth ’14 in ninth. With their conference victory, the men’s team cemented their position as the team to beat in the Mid-Western Conference.

For the women’s team, the conference victory was arguably even more exciting, considering the minuscule one-point lead Grinnell held in the preliminary conference rankings.

“It was going to be close, as it’s been for the entire season,” said women’s coach Evelyn Freeman. “With the meet at home, as great as it was, we had the pressure to perform.”

And what a performance they gave.

“They had to be on their game, because any girl could have been the difference [between first and second place]”, Evelyn Freeman said. “That’s how they ran.”

Up until the results were announced, the team had no idea which team was in first and who was second, so they waited with bated breath.

“I thought that Cornell [College] had won,” Burnell said. “When they announced that we had won by one point, everyone was crying and smiling and laughing.”

The final score was 56-57 over the Cornell Rams, as the women won their seventh league title in 10 years. With the Pioneers average time for the six-kilometer race being 23:35.77, only 0.71 seconds faster than Cornell’s, the race could not have been much closer. In addition to Burnell’s first-place finish, other top 10 scorers included Diana Seer ’15, who came in seventh place, and Alosha Southern ’17, who finished in eighth.

For both teams, winning the conference championship brought an overwhelming sense of relief.

“The process starts in June, because cross-country is as much a summer sport as a fall sport,” Will Freeman said. “Conference is our primary focus, and winning conference is our ultimate goal; we’re always thinking of the next one.”

The joy and reprieve that both teams felt was twofold for defending individual champions and captains Burnell and Canady.

“Both Frank [Canady] and I won last year, so there is the pressure to defend your title,” Burnell said. “The moment you cross the finish line, you’re just like, ‘I did it again.’ People expect it, and it’s the cherry on top for my cross country career.”

For both Burnell and Canady, the race for the repeat title started and ended the same way.

“I wanted to get a big lead, but the pace started out a bit more quickly than I’d anticipated,” Canady said. “I recovered the lead at a mile and a half, and I didn’t let go.”

Canady was the fifth individual champion from Grinnell in the past six seasons and he finished the eight-kilometer race in 25:26 with a 27-second cushion over second place.

In the women’s race, Burnell was also surprised by the quick pace, but outdueled Cornell’s Abrah Masterson early on and held the lead for the rest of the race. Burnell was recently honored as the NCAA Division III XC runner of the week, an honor few Pioneers have received.

As captains, Canady and Burnell worked with their respective coaches to ensure the highest rate of success for everyone on the team, a fruitful but highly intensive process.

“[Evelyn Freeman] is so good at keeping the team up to date; she’s always gauging how people are feeling, and she personalizes and dedicates her time to every individual,” Burnell said.

Canady holds coach Will Freeman in similar esteem.

“He understands running, and he understands the bigger picture really well; he doesn’t just look at one run or one year,” Canady said. “He’s always there for everyone, good times or bad.”

With the excellence of both coaches laid bare, it comes as a shock to none that both Will and Evelyn Freeman won Coach of the Year awards, as voted by the Midwest Conference coaches. However, coach Evelyn Freeman and coach Will Freeman are unwilling to take full credit for their success.

“It’s not anything about what I do; it’s about what they do,” Will Freeman said. “It’s the next chapter in a long and storied history of distance running.”

It is specifically this team spirit and atmosphere of togetherness that, in addition to grueling practice and stringent dedication, keeps on winning title after title for Grinnell. Cross-country victories are much less dependent on individual performance than one might expect, Burnell notes.

“With a one-point margin especially, any one of us passing one person meant the difference. It’s not just about first place.”

For Canady, maintaining this spirit was essential to making the season successful and enjoyable.

Doug Anderson ’15 finishes the eight-kilometer race. Photograph by John Brady.

“The guys coming together, showing up every day—that’s what’s important,” Canady said. “This is a sport where what you do today affects what you’re capable of doing tomorrow.”

Indeed, coach Will Freeman and coach Evelyn Freeman have carefully honed this attitude in their teams, knowing that it is not the teams their athletes are racing against, but the team that they’re a part of which will make the difference in the long run.

“At the beginning of the season, I give them a wristband with four words inscribed on the inside: ‘Discipline, Honor, Effort and Team,’” Will Freeman said. “With these four characteristics, you have an unbeatable team.”

For the women’s team, coach Evelyn Freeman praises her runners for their support of one another and the team bonds that they’ve formed.

“They train hard for themselves, and they train hard for each other,” Evelyn Freeman said, “They’re comfortable physically and mentally with one another, and that’s crucial; it’s more than just running fast.”

Winning the conference title is not the end for the Pioneers, as they set their signs on Division III Regionals. Both teams will channel their respective training attitudes into their races, which will take place on Saturday, Nov. 16 in Northfield, Minn. At the moment, the teams are decompressing from the pressures of the conference championship, and doing their best to remain healthy, stay happy and avoid injuries.

“I like our chances,” Will Freeman said. “Everyone has to stay healthy, and we have a couple of guys coming off injuries, but we have a good chance.”

Regardless of how Regionals pan out, it’s important to soak in the immensity of the teams’ accomplishments, not to mention their captains’ and coaches’. Any way you put it, Grinnell cross country had runaway success, the likes of which few teams will ever see.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *