Despite struggling to stay at 100 percent, the 2018 season for the women’s cross country team was memorable for most of the year. Capturing the first PacWest title in team history and finishing 6th at the NCAA West Regional, it seemed as if nothing could slow down the momentum.
That is, until Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania provided a slippery slope for the team at the NCAA Championships.
“The National course was unlike any course I have ever seen,” said Head Coach Jerry Arvin, now at the end of his 25th season at PLNU. “One way was downhill, then you made a turn and came uphill and repeated that loop three times. Then on top of that, the laid-out path had a slant to it so the girls were never on flat ground… On top of that, 15 minutes before the start of our race, the rain started and continued… while the temperature was below 40! To say it was unpleasant would be an understatement… It was the worst race course and… conditions that I have ever seen at a National Championships in my 30-plus years of coaching.”
The team captured a 25th-place finish out of 34 teams. On the surface, that may not seem like a success, but at least one team member had a much more positive outlook.
“I was personally so thankful to God that he helped us achieve the goals of becoming PacWest champions and making it to Nationals,” said senior Marissa Bartello in an email interview. “We were ranked 29th I believe going into Nationals and we finished at 25th. So we placed four places better than expected and I am super proud of that.”
When asked about which key runners stood out over the course of the season, Coach Arvin referred to the team’s five seniors, all of which placed in the team’s top 5 in Slippery Rock.
“I believe that all five seniors did things this year that allowed us to be successful,” said Arvin. “Hannah Benoit Bucher was our first girl at every meet. The twins, Marissa and Brianna Bartello, battled injuries and sickness much of the season but still never gave up. Josie Frye spent a year rehabbing her hamstring injury and did not race until conference and gave the team a big lift during the last three races. And Cassidy Towner, who is a graduate student, got started late in the season and missed about two months of training, but was still our number-two runner at Nationals. We will definitely miss these five girls next season.”
A total of five seniors will be departing this offseason, the most on a women’s cross country team since 2012. One senior runner reflected on what her final cross country experience in Pennsylvania meant to her.
“I’ve been running cross country since fourth grade,” said senior Josie Frye. “Just to be at Nationals for my last race of my senior year… it was a special place to be with all of my best friends. It meant a lot and it was a special moment. It was a really great way to end it.”
The final race may not have gone as expected, but finishing 25th in the nation, 6th in the region and 1st in the PacWest certainly makes for a successful season in the PLNU history books.