During a brisk morning run on a trail paved with wood chips and autumn leaves, Andrew Sorenson came to a fork in the road. He took the road most traveled by and for him it made all the difference – or at least led him to achieving a personal record at the Division III West Region Championships.
But freshman Sorenson wasn’t the only Chapman runner to finish with his fastest time of the season during the Oregon championship meet on Nov. 15. Four of the six men and women chosen to run in the event achieved their fastest times of the season.
Although most attained personal bests, they all placed only a few slots above the slowest person at the championship event. But teammates and head coach Anna Wlodarczyk were not disappointed by their outcome. The cross country runners agreed that they mostly participate in the collegiate sport for fellowship and to keep in shape. Scoring or placing in meets was just a secondary goal, they said.
This fall season, the team had only three meets, which included runners from Division I, II and III schools. Because Chapman is an independent school, meaning it does not belong to an athletic conference, placing at meets was not a concern for Wlodarczyk or her runners.
“It’s more a group of people getting together for a good workout. Everyone understands that and just wants to have fun,” said sophomore Anna Duffy.
Duffy joined the team to help her stay in shape for women’s track and field, which competes during the spring. The 400-meter hurdler expected the cross country runners to be very competitive and intense, but instead found them to be supportive and understanding of athletes running at different levels, she said. For Duffy, the sport was a good motivation to workout.
“If I’m going to workout anyway, I might as well have the responsibility of being there,” she said.
Like Duffy, Senior Beckie Takashima didn’t participate in cross country until college.
Takashima, a music major, was inspired to start running by her high school boyfriend and trained for cross country the summer before her senior year of high school. But the high school coach refused to let her join the team because of her heavy academic load, which conflicted with practice times, according to Takashima.
At Chapman, Takashima spent her first year adjusting to college life. But by her sophomore year she realized she needed a physical activity credit and enrolled in the one-credit sport that she never had a chance to participate in during high school year, she said.
“Being in cross country made me stay at Chapman and finish my four years,” said Takashima. “It’s the first group of people here that made me feel like I fit in.”
With five runners on the men’s team and eight on the women’s, two of whom chose not to compete, the two cross country teams have the fewest athletes out of all the varsity sports at Chapman, according to the Chapman Web site.
According to Wlodarczyk, she is only allowed to have three Chapman vans to transport students to and from their off-campus 6 a.m. practices. But Wlodarczyk wouldn’t want more than the 25 athletes that the vans can accommodate. Keeping track of that many runners at their different speeds during practices at mountainside areas or places like the Santa Ana River Trail would be too difficult for her, despite the help of her bicycle, she said.
Although Wlodarczyk is comfortable with the team’s size, some of the teammates would like to see more feet in their running pack.
Freshman Chris Cresci, the fastest runner on the team, wants to recruit and encourage more men to join their team, he said. Cresci agrees with his teammates that scoring at invitational meets is not the team’s foremost goal. However, it would be more attainable with more than the current roster of five male athletes, which is the minimum number of runners required to be eligible to place, he said.
“It would be nice to have 10 to 15 guys on the team. Even other small schools have that size of a team,” said Cresci.
Sorenson would also like to build up the team because more runners would mean greater competition among the members, he said.
This year, the men’s team was comprised of four freshmen and one senior, all of whom were competing in collegiate sports for the first time.
But the youth or collegiate inexperience of the men’s team was not a problem, according to Wlodarczyk.
“I had the best group of men since I [had been] at Chapman,” said Wlodarczyk. “[They were] the most dedicated. They motivated each other.”
The athletes encourage other Chapman students to join, even if they are afraid of tackling the women’s 5K or the men’s 8K events.
Regardless of the teammates’ original reasons for joining, the athletes stick around because running together is simply fun, they said.
“It’s kind of an energy boost,” said Sorenson. “You get past a certain distance, endorphins kick in, and you get a runner’s high. It feels really good.”