Yeowomen Dethrone Gators, Capture Coveted NCAC Title


Natalie Winkelfoos

The women’s cross country team beat Allegheny College by one point Saturday, Oct. 27 at the North Coast Athletic Conference Championship, and took home the trophy for the first time in three years. Numerous members of the team credit their leadership and discipline for giving them the slight advantage over the Gators.

College junior and cross country runner Shannon Wargo immediately noticed the look of disappointment and defeat on the faces of her three teammates who finished before her when she reached the finish line Saturday, Oct. 27, at the North Coast Athletic Conference Championship.

Certain that her team would fall short of winning the conference title for the fourth year in a row, Wargo used positive self-talk to keep her spirits up.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Wargo told herself. “Allegheny was just better. We’ll work harder to win it next year.”

The race wasn’t over, but runners from defending champion Allegheny College placed first, third, and fourth. Wargo, College senior Linnea Halsten, College junior Oona Jung-Beeman, and College junior Marija Crook — who all finished in the top eight — thought it was unlikely that they would dethrone the Gators, and didn’t want to get their hopes up.

The foursome has consistently led the women’s cross country team the past few years. Halsten became Oberlin’s eighth individual conference champion last year, winning every single race up until nationals. Crook earned NCAC first-team honors and competed at nationals a year ago as well, while Jung-Beeman and Wargo earned second-team honors.

However, the heroes of the meet Saturday were College junior Joy Castro-Wehr and College sophomore Corrie Purcell. When Head Cross Country Coach Ray Appenheimer tallied up the Yeowomen’s points at the conclusion of the race, he discovered that Oberlin beat Allegheny by a single point, thanks to Castro-Wehr and Purcell’s efforts to hold off Allegheny first-year Molly Tarvin, who finished in 16th place.

“It was definitely an emotional few minutes as we waited for the official results,” Castro-Wehr said. “I guess I erred pessimistically to not get my hopes up, and told myself we hadn’t won. I didn’t know the win would come down to just a point’s difference, and I definitely had no idea that the place I was running in would be the decisive factor.”

Castro-Wehr came in 39th place at last year’s conference meet with a time of 23:57.8. Last weekend, she was the 12th runner to cross the finish line with a time of 23:32.5. Purcell was right behind her, finishing in 23:34.0 minutes, which is a 15-place improvement from last year.

Purcell spent a good portion of the summer treating nerve damage in her hamstring and was forced to miss the team’s first four meets. The conference meet was just her second time competing this year.

“It feels so good to be a part of this team and a part of this win,” Purcell said. “I feel so lucky to be a member of not only a winning, nationally-ranked team but also such a loving, silly group of my closest friends.”

According to several members of the team, what finally gave Oberlin the advantage over Allegheny after being the runner-up for three years in a row was the team’s discipline throughout the summer and fall.

“We were really motivated this year, especially the juniors and seniors,” Wargo said. “We hadn’t won conference in a few years, and it’s been something we’ve lost by just a few points each time, so we knew it would come down to the small things that we do. We’ve always worked hard at practice and been motivated to race hard, but it’s really the small things that can make a big difference in how well we perform on race day.”

Wargo said that she and her teammates spent more time in the training room this year than in years past, rolling out their muscles, taking ice baths, and fostering relationships with the training room staff. In addition, they were more diligent about consistently cross-training and completing circuits and lifts after runs.

Appenheimer, who was named the women’s NCAC Coach of the Year for the ninth time in his career, agreed that the team’s exceptional leadership and dedication resulted in the big win.

“This last month I have seen the best workouts, best races, and best team community we’ve had here in a long time,” Appenheimer said. “That is attributable to our seniors and our captains. The team was able to draw upon the wellspring of energy and support these folks bring every day. You could see it in the performances from Shannon, Joy, and Corrie, who really did a lot to deliver that win.”

Castro-Wehr said that everyone has held each other accountable for the energy that they bring to each practice and meet.

“Our leaders — including our coaches and our captains — are doing a great job of directing the collective team energy toward something that’s uniquely supportive, fun, passionate, and enthusiastic,” she said. “I almost feel like a win was inevitable this season, considering all the love, effort, and support people have contributed to the team.”

The team began a new tradition this year of journaling before each practice. Appenheimer and Associate Head Cross Country Coach Izzy Alexander wrote questions on a whiteboard for the team to answer: what they are thankful for, how they can be a better teammate, what went well today, what didn’t go well today, and how they could improve themselves this week.

Purcell said the journal prompts have motivated her and helped her focus throughout the season, and are just one of the many ways Appenheimer has helped bring out the best in his team.

“If I were to shoutout just one person, it would be Ray,” Purcell said. “It is so hard to convey how lucky I feel to be coached by him. He inspires us and pushes us to be so much better than I could ever expect.”