Last season the women’s cross country team only consisted of two runners, and in order to officially score in the race a team has to have at least five members.
This year the team has expanded to seven athletes, which according to Sierra Downs has contributed to the team’s success.
“I think that the girls on the team really embrace that team mentally which isn’t something you find all the time,” said Downs, who came in fourth at the Dukes Invitational. She continued, “Everyone’s very supportive of one another. We’re all at different levels, but we just all have a lot of fun. We’re like a little family.”
Erin Cahill is in her second season of coaching women’s cross country for Mercer, and has not changed her coaching style now that the roster has expanded.
“It’s a similar approach. You have to focus on each individuals abilities and each situation,” said Cahill. She also knows how important team mentality can be for success in Cross Country.
“You’re not just running for yourself. You’re running for the team as well,” she said.
Cahill credits the team expansion to “word of mouth from a few that wanted to do it in the spring.”
Jaqueline Goncalves wanted to join the Cross Country team last season, but was unable to find the time.
“I asked about the cross country team, but because of my class schedule I couldn’t join,” she said.
Sierra Downs and Anajae Register had run cross country before and wanted to continue running at college.
“I wasn’t aware that Mercer actually had a team,” said Downs, who officially found out about the team through her high school cross country coach.
The seven women on the team have roots ranging from Brazil to Brooklyn.
Cahill believes that the diversity of the team only creates a stronger bond.
“There’s a good mix of international girls and local girls and they both want to learn from each other. They want to do well for each other,” she said.
Cahill said the team has had a “pretty good season.”
“It’s hard. Some meets have been stronger than others,” said Cahill.
Their strongest meet came on September 17 at the Dukes Invitational at Cumberland County College where they placed second.
Charlay Dingle, who has never played Cross Country before this season, said that this sport “is not for the weak hearted”.
Each race is a different length. Some are 6k while others are 5k. Some meets also consist of D1, D2, and D3 teams from various two and four year colleges.
“We’re a JR Division 1 team racing with four year colleges who are division three. We don’t score against them, but we’re still physically next to them and competing with them,” said Downs. She continued, “The goal of a race is to not only to get a personal best time, but to try and pass people that you’re scoring against because if you finish before them then you get more points.”
Cahill hopes that the extra length or the races and competition will help the team.
“I’m hoping that makes us tougher. You just have to take it meet by meet,” she said.
The cross country team is looking to place in the regional meet at Thompson Park on October 22.