(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) With promise fueled by finishing second in last year’s Golden State Athletic Conference meet and competing at the NAIA National Championships, the 2019 Westmont men’s and women’s cross country teams are positive that their hard work, sound coaching and a measure of suffering can bring even greater success this season. As he begins his 41st year as Westmont men’s and women’s cross country head coach, Russell Smelley reveals the main focus in developing these Warrior runners.
“We are helping them to recognize that they are better than they think,” stated Smelley. “The ambition they have for one day in the future is actually today, it’s now, because they are farther along than they realize.”
The Westmont women return seven athletes, including All-GSAC, Bethany Bodine, who finished 10th in the 2018 conference championship meet. However, as Coach Smelley points out, there are some new aspects to this season’s squad.
“We have a wholly different team than we had a year ago, and really, the last two years. Our number one runner, Casey Jensen, is doing an off-campus semester in Mexico.
“Getting Bethany Bodine back was huge because she’s going to compete – she’s a competitor, so she’ll help the team a lot. She just decided to run a few days before school started.
“Sara Claud and Amanda Colacchia have been chosen as co-captains. They have been trailing people, staying behind the front seven for three years, but they’ve been very earnest in their training and they have stepped up into the role of front-runners and leaders on this team.
“Katie Nili had an outstanding high school career up through her junior year and then she had some injuries so it was hard for her. She ran in all the meets last season but she is still working her way back to form. If she gets truly healthy, she will bolster this team very quickly.”
Senior Dana Hjelm along with sophomores, Emma Lottman, and Abigail Stadtlander, contribute to the team’s experience, as all three finished between 18th and 27th in the 2018 GSAC Championship race.
With five true freshmen and a senior, debuting as a first-year competitor, Coach Smelley believes this group will help the team immediately.
“Madden Hundley is the number one athlete coming in and she’s very determined and ready to open up and run what she’s capable,” continued Smelley, “Callie Guthrie, when she gets her confidence up and her joy of running back, she’ll be right there for us. These two first-years and Katie Nili, with Bethany back, and the captains, they will form the strength of the front-runners.”
In addition to Hundley and Guthrie, the other freshmen are Macy Cholometes, Abigail Edwards, Mags Holleran, and first-year runner, senior Cameryn Idema.
The Warriors schedule finds both men’s and women’s teams competing in four meets prior to the GSAC Championship, Friday, November 8, in Orange and the NAIA National Championship in Vancouver, Wash., Friday, November 22. Westmont opens competition at the UC Riverside Invitational, Saturday, September 14, followed by The Master’s Invitational, Saturday, September 28 in Santa Clarita. The second half of the schedule concludes with meets at the Vanguard Invitational in Orange, Saturday, October 12, and the Warrior Invitational hosted by William Jessup, Saturday, October 26 in Rocklin.
“Riverside will give us an immediate idea where we’re at and then the Mustang Invitational will be the first test because there will be NAIA teams from across the country. A lot of our conference will be there, too, so we’ll see where we stand in relation to the others in the GSAC.
“The Vanguard event is a chance to see the course that we’ll have for the conference championship meet. Then, Jessup is really the next important one, especially for rankings, because we’ll see some ranked teams from outside of our conference, outside of California, and that will give us a measure of who we are going into the GSAC Championship.”
Smelley noted that he expects Vanguard to be the favorite in the GSAC this season, “Vanguard won their first women’s league title ever last season and they have that same team back. They might be even better.” He added, “Bethany, Katie, and Madden, all have excellent opportunities to make it to Nationals, and if all of our front-runners continue to improve in their roles, we have a real chance to surprise some folks.”
If the Warriors are able to make the most of their new season it will be in large part to assistant coach, Lindsey Connolly, who enters her 12th season as an assistant to both programs.
“Lindsey manages the women’s training and she does a great job with them,” said Smelley. “She’s able to focus on them and give them more attention to their training, which allows me to focus on getting to know them individually. Lindsey’s collaboration is critical – it allows me more training time with the men and more quality time with the women.”
MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY
Returning All-American, and first Westmont runner to win consecutive GSAC Championship races, Michael Oldach, anchors a large team (21) with a lot of new faces (11), but it’s the group of returners that has head coach Russell Smelley most enthusiastic – and expectant.
“I’m excited about the returners,” said Smelley. “These guys have just become more capable – Thaddeus Kowalik, Craig Odenwald, John Kiser, Jason Peterson. Suddenly they are thrust up in the race where in previous seasons they were back.
“They are able, they have prepared – so our biggest challenge is to help them see that they are very capable runners versus, ‘oh, I follow this person’ and ‘other people are better than me.’ Well, not really, anymore. They’ve done a really intentional job of getting better – they’re just in a place where they don’t yet realize how good they are.”
Not that Smelley is overlooking his All-American returner.
“Michael is perfectly capable of having another All-American year. He’s still coming back from an end-of-season aggravation that limited his total output. Even with that, he earned All-American in both indoor and outdoor track and field.”
Adding further depth to the returning group are Caleb Choi, Hayden Guthrie, Patrick Malberg, and William Wright.
For a team that seems so veteran, there are actually more new guys than not. Even without a race run yet, Coach Smelley sees a couple of the first-year athletes emerging in workouts.
“Garrett Miller has done very well so far in training, he is focused and positive. He’s going to do well,” continued Smelley. “Daniel Rubin is talented and has not realized his full potential yet, so he’s coming along. I want to single out sophomore Jason Peterson – he is the bridge between the older guys and younger guys and it’s been a valuable role.”
Filling out the first year personnel for the Warriors are Josh Anderson, John Baker, Adam King, Garrett Miller, Ariel Rodriguez, Zach Simopoulos, Mark Szekrenyi, Evan Tsuei, and Damien Ureste, along with junior transfer Chris Hanessian.
“It’s really a team of two groups and making them one,” explained Smelley. “With the returning group, it’s about convincing them that they are better than they think, and then it’s also about convincing the freshman that they won’t die when they run 3,000 meters more than they’re used to. They are capable of moving forward together, both groups, and that’s exciting.”
The men’s team will compete in the same schedule of meets as the women’s team for the 2019 season. Having fewer meets and more time in between competitions, Smelley hopes this will allow the men to adjust and refocus as the season progresses.
“We’re going to see our primary GSAC opponents in every meet this season. The UC Riverside meet is the first go at 8,000 meters by these freshmen and it’s going to go fast – they’re going to hear times that are going to stun them. Hopefully, they just keep going, don’t panic, don’t back off.
“The Mustang Invitational is the best meet of the year. It’s on a really fine cross country course and we compete against all these good teams. Last year our guys finished fifth but they beat The Master’s.
“This year, we may not do as good as we want to in those first two meets but that won’t be the end of it, those will be good learning points at the right time of the season.”
The men’s course for the 2019 GSAC Championship at Irvine Regional Park will have a new look.
“It’s the same track we’ve been on before,” said Smelley. “But the fire there two years ago took out a part of the course and they’ve changed it slightly, so it’s fortunate that we’ll get to run on it at the Vanguard meet.”
Once again, the Warriors will be looking this season to snap the streak of GSAC crowns held by rival The Master’s.
“The Master’s is so solid – they are going for their 10th men’s league title in a row. We happen to be the last team to win the conference and that was in 2009. We want to compete for the title and not back off just because they’ve won so much.
“We train these athletes hard, we rest them, we prepare them as best we know how – but ultimately it just comes down to their desire and willingness to suffer. Their willingness to push past the critical point when the body is saying ‘slow down or something bad is going to happen’ and where the mind develops a response that says to the body, ‘ignore how you feel.’ That’s what makes them Westmont Warriors.”