Cheadle’s freshman campaign off to fast start
Freshman Lucy Cheadle broke into the collegiate cross-country scene quickly, matching senior star Liz Phillips stride-for-stride in the season’s first meet, missing an individual title by a mere 0.3 seconds.
That was on Sept. 3 at the Washington University Big River Running Early Bird Meet. Fast forward to Cheadle’s second race, Oct. 15 at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Brooks Invitational, the Bears’ most important meet of the season to date. She fell to the back of the pack to start out, presumably a sign of rust after missing three races with a minor calf injury.
But it was just strategy, evidence of the intangibles that head coach Jeff Stiles raves about. Soon enough, Cheadle surged ahead, finishing third for the Bears and 15th among a field of nearly 400 top Division III runners. Cheadle started conservatively and finished strong, just as Stiles always instructs his runners to do.
“A lot of people have talent,” Stiles said. “That doesn’t mean that you do well or that you do well right away.”
Cheadle has managed to perform well immediately, though, and she is a crucial part of the No. 2 women’s cross-country team heading into its most important races of the year. The Bears are favored over No. 19 Emory and No. 26 NYU in the University Athletic Association Championships on Saturday.
Despite the expectations for herself and the team, Cheadle maintains an uncanny calmness through it all.
“If you just enjoy competing and don’t worry too much about the results and just push yourself, you’re in control of how you do,” she said. “Worrying about it isn’t going to do any good. I don’t set a goal [time] where if I don’t hit it I’m just devastated, so there’s really no failing as long as you’re giving it your 100 percent for that day.”
Cheadle will run track in the spring; she competed in the 800m, 1600m, and 4×4 events in high school.
She chose Wash. U. over two Division I schools, University of Washington—the division’s No. 2 team—and the University of Portland. A chemical engineering major, she said the Division I time commitment often takes away from one’s enthusiasm for the sport. Because there is much less scholarship money for cross-country than in sports like football and basketball, athletes often feel more pressure to perform well and avoid injuries, or they risk losing financial aid. At Wash. U., Cheadle can let her love of the sport drive her.
As a senior at Roosevelt High in Seattle, Cheadle was the seventh-place runner in the Division 4A Washington state championship and led her team to a 13th place state finish. The bar has been raised another notch this year.
“It’s definitely new being on a team that’s pretty much going to go to Nationals as long as we don’t have any huge mess ups,” Cheadle said. “In high school, for my team the goal was just to make it to state, and doing that was so exciting.”
Stiles pointed to Cheadle’s maturity as the source of her quick success and potential to become a perennial All-American.
“She pretty much had the mindset of a college runner while she was a senior in high school…You can’t give that to someone—that’s not anything that I can take credit for—that’s something that she came to us with,” Stiles said. “As a coach you can appreciate and observe and know that’s absolutely a reason why she’ll do well. As well as she did in her first race…I think it’s just a good litmus test of what she’s capable of in the future.”
Cheadle is the most visible of several impact freshmen on both the women’s and men’s teams. Ryan Senci has been a consistent top-five presence for the men and is usually joined in the top seven by Drew Padgett and Garrett Patrick. Grace Bridwell and Beatrice Gantzer project as top-five runners for the women next year.
Cheadle is the bridge between the present and the future for the Bears. The team has all but one of its top-six runners, Taryn Surtees, back from last year’s national runner-up team. As easy as it is to wonder about Cheadle’s potential as an upperclassman, the Bears’ best chance at a national championship could be now, with three seniors—Liz Phillips, Erica Jackey and Molly Wawrzyniak—in their current top five.
“We want to do as well as possible at nationals, whatever that means,” Cheadle said. “We just want everybody to be on the line ready to have the race of her life and see what we can do together.”