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The Scarlet & Black

Cross country runners receive all-region honors

Mikayla Fujiwara and Matt Lieberman received all-region honors for cross country. Photo by Emma Mills

This past Saturday, select members of the men’s and women’s cross country team competed at the NCAA Division III Regional Championships. Both teams came into regionals having just won the Midwest Conference two weeks before. At regionals, the men finished 18th place out of 28 teams and the women placed 9th out of 30 teams. Especially notable were the performances of Matt Lieberman ’21 and Mikayla Fujiwara ’20, in particular.    

Matt Lieberman ’21 earned All-Region honors for the first time, and Mikayla Fujiwara ’20 received All-Region honors for the second time. The top 35 runners for men and women receive this honor at each regional meet around the country.  

Both Lieberman and Fujiwara attribute their success towards listening to their body and adapting their training plan. Lieberman modified his training speed, and ran his easier days much easier and his hard days much harder. “That helped me finish workouts better and push through workouts better. Also, I had more energy later in the season,” he said.    

Additionally, Lieberman believes that the gravitational wellness program helped his performance at the regional meet. This year, the cross country team implemented the program for the first time.   

“I think that because I’ve had so much experience [running], I did the same thing but was a lot more independent this year and listened to my body and what I needed to do in order to do my best. It’s hard to balance what the team wants you to do and also what you feel like you need to do for yourself, but this is my last year and I wanted to do the best I could,” said Fujiwara.  

Moreover, both Lieberman and Fujiwara believe that the positive team atmosphere and team cohesion helped their performances. Throughout the season, Lieberman felt that there was positive team spirit. “It felt like everybody was just there because they enjoyed actually being on the team,” Lieberman said.  

This season was especially important as it marked the end of Will and Evelyn Freeman’s cross country coaching legacy at Grinnell College. After the spring track season, the two plan to retire. Lieberman thinks that next season will be important for the class of 2021—as they will be the ones leading the team and continuing the legacies and traditions the Freemans started. “I think it’ll just be really cool to be able to lead the next era of the cross country program at this school along with the other fourth-years. I think that’ll be a really cool experience,” Lieberman stated.     

Both Lieberman and Fujiwara plan to continue their collegiate running career in the spring for the track season. As Fujiwara graduates this year, her future running plans are different from Lieberman’s. Lieberman has another season left and another shot at clinching All-Region honors. For Fujiwara, this was her last race, so running holds something new and different for her now.    

“I think my days as a competitive cross country runner are over, it was nice to have that one last race,” said Fujiwara. “I think that the competition aspect is really fun, but it wouldn’t be as fun without a team. Being there with your teammates really makes it special, and it makes feel like you’re running for something, rather than just running a race.”  

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