Entering this season, Rebecca Wilmews, the Missouri cross country assistant coach, knew this year would be a growing year for the women’s team.
With Amanda Bales as the lone senior and six of the 14 runners being sophomores, there was some pressure on the sophomore class to improve, and it has responded.
“Last year, we were scared little freshmen,” sophomore Ellen Reis said. “We knew there would be some big shoes to fill. We thought of it as a challenge, and it’s been fun trying to fill them.”
Although the team has only raced in the Missouri Invitational on Sept. 9 and the Notre Dame Invitational on Friday, Wilmes said the younger runners have matured dramatically.
Wilmes said it was only a matter of time until the talented sophomore class had a breakthrough. At the Notre Dame Invitational, which Wilmes said was the team’s first test, the Tigers finished 10th out of 19 teams which included seven ranked programs. Although the top two finishers for the Tigers were Bales (10th) and junior Kate Greer (28th), three sophomores knocked large chunks off their times from last year.
Reis (60th) ran the three-mile course in 17 minutes and 53 seconds, a full minute faster than her time last season. Angela Portykus (84th) and Trisa Nickoley (96th), both sophomores, ran about 50 seconds faster.
The results were encouraging and not surprising to Greer, who said it was nice to see people drop their times in a challenging meet.
“This is a very motivated group of sophomores,” Greer said. “They knew we’d be counting on them this year and I was confident they’d show up and work hard.”
Not only have the sophomores brought talent and results to the team, they’ve brought confidence.
“They really have emerged as leaders,” Greer said. “They definitely don’t just sit back and take everything passively.”
Reis credits the sophomores’ increased leadership to experience and knowing that the older runners’ leadership is still there to fall back on. In addition, the older runners let the sophomores know what is expected.
“Personally, I’m at the point where success is just expected,” Reis said. “We have to have it in our heads that we will run well.”
In addition to running and training together, the group spends most of its time together and gets along well. Reis said four of the sophomores live together, eat together, and enjoy spending time with each other.
“We’ve gotten a lot closer this year,” Reis said. “It’s been so much fun getting to know each other and their families, we’re just very supportive of each other.”
It’s the little things that make the group function in a family-type atmosphere. For example, Reis explained how she got up to run at 6 a.m., but just so she wouldn’t have to run alone, a fellow sophomore woke up early to run with her.
With the postseason starting on Oct. 14, confidence and leadership will be essential to the Tigers’ achievements. Although Reis said she is a little nervous about the postseason meets on the horizon, she is also excited to see what the team can do.
“It’s time to get serious,” Greer said. “We have some exciting meets coming up and everybody is well aware there are some good opportunities to do well.”