NORTH ANDOVER — On the surface cross country looks like a sport with a very individualistic approach, but for Merrimack College, it’s taken a team to help the women’s program reach new heights this fall.
The Warriors, who raced this weekend against many Division 1 competitors at the New England Championships, have been ranked second in the East Region almost all of this season and even cracked the national rankings two weeks ago. The Warriors have been registering their best overall finishes in recent memory and according to junior Kelsey Grimmer, who was named to the Northeast-10 All-Conference Second Team last season, much of that is due to the Warriors taking a team approach.
“We definitely rely on each other a lot,” said Grimmer, who was the Warriors’ second-best finisher at New Englands this past Saturday. “A lot of it is left up to us individually in terms of making sure we’re training right, especially in the offseason, but the team part of it is very important and I think it’s a big reason why we’ve been having some success.”
Like most racers, the Warriors are aggressive in their pack, helping the runners pace together.
“It’s definitely good motivation,” Grimmer said. “If we’re struggling a little there’s always someone there that’s going to bring up the rest of the team. I think it also helps that some of our more experienced runners can help coach our newer runners, especially if it’s on a course that some of our newer runners haven’t run before.”
Each course requires it’s own strategy, Grimmer says. Some courses are flat and run rather easy while others are hilly and steep. Factor in that the weather has been fluctuating almost daily, and conditions haven’t been prime for running at times.
And unlike football or soccer, where the lines are always in the same place, cross country runners face different courses all the time, which puts an emphasis on experience.
“I definitely feel more comfortable now,” Grimmer said. “I raced in high school (in Shelton, Conn.) but for me I know I really relied on the juniors and seniors my first few years to help pace me. We’ve always been a strong team, and even this year we’re pretty young, so it’s exciting that we can be doing this well with a younger team.”
The Warriors also entered this season in peak condition. Being a fall sport, and relying so much on conditioning, a bad summer for a cross-country athlete can mean doom for an upcoming year. But this summer Grimmer says the Warriors returned to campus just before the calendar turned to September in top form.
If you’re a regular on Merrimack’s campus, you know the runners’ dedication; they’re constantly seen logging training miles.
“You definitely need to keep up with your miles in the summer,” she said. “There’s very little time off, we need to be training all the time or else you start to lose some of your conditioning and it can be hard to get back. A lot of times though, in the summer we’re all relying on each other to get that training work in ourselves and we did, which was awesome because it meant we were really able to hit the ground running when we got back to campus.”
Grimmer, in just her third year, has witnessed huge upgrades to not only her team, but the campus as a whole.
“It’s been amazing to watch the growth,” she said. “The new facilities are great and it’s exciting to see it all happening. As a team we’re also doing the best we’ve done since I’ve been here, so it’s all happening at the same time and it’s fun to be a part of.”
Next up for the Warriors is the Northeast-10 Championships on Oct. 27 followed by the NCAA Regionals on Nov. 10.
“Our goal is to win a championship,” Grimmer said. “That would be awesome and we’re working hard to get there.”