Cross Country training hard while preparing for U.P. Collegiate Opener

Laura Conway

The NMU cross country team will begin their 2010 competitive season on Sept. 3 at the UP Collegiate Opener in Houghton, Mich. The competition will serve as an important benchmark for how the Wildcats are racing in actual competition versus practice.

Sophomore Olivia Juntila said she was impressed with her team’s performance in the time trials earlier last week.

“We actually just had our team trials … and the results were awesome. The top seven girls were all within 30 seconds of each other and the times were just as impressive,” Juntila said.

Juntila was the top runner for the Wildcats at the NCAA Regionals and second at the GLIAC Championships. Juntila said she wants to make memories this season and improve her times.

“Hopefully, one of those memories will be running an 18-minute 5K,” she said.

The 2009 Wildcat cross country team ended with high hopes for the upcoming year. Though the team’s top two runners, alumni Bibiane Mahy and Jenny Wiedmeyer, were out with H1N1, the ‘Cats still managed to place seventh out of 12 at the GLIAC Championship  in October 2009. The champion Grand Valley State University runners were only ahead of the Wildcats by two minutes, with the entire NMU team finishing between 22 and 24 minutes in the 6K race.

At the NCAA Division 2 Regionals, the ’Cats finished 13th out of 19 against some of the best teams in the region.

NMU head coach Jenny Ryan said the girls did a lot of training over the summer.

“Because of the intense workouts and dedication of last year’s girls, the team has come back very strong,” she said.

Ryan said she is expecting huge improvements in placement at the GLIAC Championships this year, and added that the team aims to qualify for the NCAA Nationals by placing in the top four at the regional event.

“Olivia Juntila is our top returning athlete with the graduation of the two seniors, but I also expect senior Kristen Schulz, junior Nora Kiilunen and sophomore Rita Woitas to be at the top,” Ryan said. “Christina Turman (formerly Gillis) will be one of our top runners after redshirting last year.”

One of the biggest events of the season, besides the championships, is the Roy Griak Invitational, Sept. 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Wildcat cross country team has been working hard to reach its high goals. The ’Cats work out at least twice a day, with regimens including running, weightlifting and plyometrics.

Sometimes the team even has a third workout in the form of an extra run. Most of the athletes are in two sports, competing in cross country skiing or track and field, to keep performance at the highest peak possible throughout the year. They are also the top team in the school in regards to academic performance, having earned a team average 3.43 GPA. Ryan credited this to the closeness of the team and their dedication to helping each other succeed in both athletics and academic endeavors.

The Wildcats lone home meet will be the U.P. Championship at the NMU Golf Course off of M-28 on Oct. 22, at 4 p.m.