The 2011 Mercer Women’s Cross Country team finished second in the Region XIX finals. They had fallen just short of their goal of defeating Essex County College, a much larger program. One year earlier, the team was not able to field the minimum five runners required to place in a cross country event.
“To come so close to beating a team that is so established was awesome,” said Sierra Downs, a third year liberal arts major, and former VOICE reporter. She said, “There was a sense of team pride because everyone worked so hard to get to that point. There aren’t many feelings more fulfilling than that”.
The Mercer women’s cross country program has increased in membership in both of its two years. Although Mercer had a Women’s Cross Country team in the late 1980’s, it had been disbanded for almost two decades. The program was reestablished with two runners in 2010, grew to seven runners in 2011. The team has 11 runners for the 2012 season.
After finishing second in the Region XIX finals last season, the team traveled to New Mexico to participate in the Division I Junior College National Championships. They were unable to field a scoring team as five competitors from a school are required to place and only four runners were able to make the trip, but Coach Erin Cahill says she wanted to expose the team to upper level competition.
The 2011 team consisted of four American students and three international students from Brazil. According to the players, the diversity helped the team grow closer particularly as they each practiced a new language, Portuguese for the American women and English for the Brazilian women.
Coach Cahill cited the difference of native languages as something that brought the team together rather than driving them apart: “One of the strengths of the team is how close knit they are.”
Out of this camaraderie came the teams rallying cry, shouting “Vamos Time!” (which is Portuguese for “Go Team!”) just before the start of each race. “We formed a family from the start,” said Downs.
In preparation for the 2012 season, the team had its first full off-season of training. Their regiment included distance runs several times a week and aqua jogging, a training method done in pools, when the weather was poor.
The season started on September 1 at the Delaware Valley Invitational held at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown Pennsylvania. The Mercer team fielded five runners and placed 14 out of 15 colleges attending the meet.
With the 2012 season just underway, Coach Cahill’s hopes for this year are to win the Region XIX finals and to bring at least five runners to Illinois this year for a chance to be a scoring team in the national finals.