by Shelby Eden
Assistant Sports Editor

As fallen leaves and crisp winter air take over the Minnesota landscape, the University of Northwestern — St. Paul’s men’s and women’s cross country teams wrap up their 2016 running campaigns. Along with developing themselves as runners, as the season progressed, the men and women focused largely on practicing mental toughness and creating team unity.

image_handler-5In late August, the cross-country teams kick started their seasons by traveling to Camp Shamineau in Motely, Minnesota, for a weekend of relaxation and team-building activities. The team retreat featured challenging games and activities that prompted the teams to work together, creating greater unity for both the moment and for the rest of the season.

Wil Maki, junior captain of the men’s team stated, “It was awesome to see our team come together to overcome the obstacle courses and other challenges. We also had a blast on their high ropes course, where I think everyone was surprised at what they could do.”

Lisa Greenslade, a senior leader for the Eagles added, “I know the retreat at the beginning of the season was a highlight and there were a lot of great memories made.”

As the season progressed, the men’s team faced challenges regarding player injuries and sickness. For example, because of these setbacks, the Eagles could send just six runners to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh meet on Sept. 30 while most programs sent seven men. With just seven total runners on the 2016 roster, compared to last year’s 12, the men had to push through pain in order to compete as a team and place at events.

“We are low on numbers this year so this means our depth is basically non-existent. To really compete, we need every guy at full strength,” said Maki. “Unfortunately, we ran into illness for quite a few guys, including myself, early on in the season. Each race others would have to step up to fill those holes, but again, I think it was something that made us more mature.”

With 16 runners, the women’s team did not face depth challenges but struggled early on with developing confidence individually and as a team. As the season went on, though, the women began to establish this confidence through emphasizing the importance of unity and mental toughness.

“I think our team is a lot more mentally tough since the beginning of the season,” explained Greenslade. “I have enjoyed seeing each and every girl improve and build a confidence in their abilities.”

She added, “All of us have pushed each other in practices and races to be the best that we can be, and that unity is something that is irreplaceable.”

In addition to becoming stronger athletes mentally, the teams improved their running capabilities as well. Facing undesirable, muddy conditions, the women’s team had one of their best outings of the year on Oct. 15 at Crown College. The meet featured many personal records for the women and a boost of conference heading into the conference championship as the team placed third out of five teams.

Greenslade said, “For a lot of the girls, the last meet at Crown was the most successful. The girls persevered despite the rough conditions of deep mud and puddles. Some even lost their spikes during the race!”

image_handler-4On the men’s side, Maki praised his team’s effort at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire’s Blugold invite on Sept. 30. Although the Eagles placed fourteenth out of 15 teams, many of the runners picked up personal bests, which gave the team added momentum.

“Meets like that help to push the team forward. It brings excitement back to the training because you can see it working,” said Maki. “I was very excited to see some of our guys step up in their racing ability and it makes me more confident in our abilities going into the conference race.”

Along with building up one another through trying times during the season, the men’s and women’s runners strived to encourage and respect their competition and display Christ-like behavior in practice, meets, and everyday life.

“Whether we win or lose, our goal is the same,” said Maki. “We want to be salt and light to those around us and at the end of the day people would know that there is something different about us, and that is that we serve Jesus.”

The teams also came to understand the importance of giving any of their doubts and stressors to God in order to run free for His glory.

“In college and in life in general, there seems to be a lot of stress and anxiety that can build up and keep us from what we are trying to do,” said Greenslade. “It is important to give those things to God and to focus on what He has for us and our goals, instead of the worry that drags us down.”

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