Cross country faces Wartburg in rivalry matchup
Some fall sports like football, soccer, and volleyball can only face one opponent per game. Cross country meets, on the other hand, can have upwards of ten teams competing. This weekend, WashU focused on racing nationally-ranked competitor Wartburg in a more intimate, nearly one-on-one setting.
Wartburg College hosted the annual Dan Huston Invite on the fastest course WashU will race on all year. As the season gets underway, runners took advantage of Iowa’s gently rolling hills to test “what pace is gonna be our threshold for the rest of the season,” senior captain Emily Konkus said.
“It’s all about learning how to race, because it’s hard to race where you feel like you really like left it all out there without dying,” said junior captain Jeff Candell. “We’re focusing on racing it well and learning what it feels like — or what it should feel like at different parts of the race.”
The Wartburg men are the reigning regional champions and currently ranked #3 nationally. The WashU men trail a bit in the rankings as the 2021 regional runner-ups and currently #11 nationally. A handful of club running teams also populated the race, but the competition “felt more just like us vs. Wartburg, but because they’re a very competitive team, it made it a competitive race,” said Candell on the meet atmosphere.
In the absence of usual lead runner Cullen Capuano, who sat out the race to focus on other competitive matchups later on in the season, junior Drew Sidamon-Eristoff stepped up to lead as the Bears’ top finisher. Sidamon-Eristoff placed 2nd overall in 24:34. He was the team’s top finisher at nationals last year and seemed to hit his stride towards the end of last season.
“It’s good to see that he’s already getting to [the top] and hopefully will be able to push even more later in the season,” said Candell about his teammate’s performance. Candell is another regular contributor to the team score, and he was WashU’s 2nd finisher in 24:44 and 5th place overall.
Wartburg, strutting on their home course, placed six runners in front of WashU’s fifth, which earned them the 29-point win over WashU’s 41 points. In future meets, especially when Capuano races again, the margin will likely become thinner. Notably, freshman Oliver Witt was 10th overall and WashU’s 3rd finisher in 25:03 in only his 2nd 8000m race.
The women have a similarly competitive history with Wartburg, placing a frustrating second place to Wartburg at regionals. The Wartburg women are ranked second in national polls, while WashU sits at sixth. These two teams took the spotlight: “It effectively became a dual meet between us and Wartburg,” joked Konkus.
Wartburg’s top five runners were a huge asset to its win. They all finished before WashU’s 4th runner, propelling the home team to a 21-point win. WashU held on for second with 34 points. Notably, the Bears had 11 runners finish within the top 20 overall, while Wartburg only had six runners with the same accolades. This superior depth could prove to be a valuable asset in higher stakes meets.
“What makes a difference at the scoring level and definitely at the national level are your fourth- and fifth-place scorers,” Konkus said. Wartburg’s dominant top five bested the WashU team over the weekend, but if a top WashU runner does falter, plenty of women are there to make up for it.
Konkus led the team, finishing third place overall in 21:41, followed by fellow senior captain Lindsay Ott in 21:56, and freshman Katie Rector in 22:03. These three times are the fastest in program history on Wartburg’s course. “The women’s team is improving exponentially,” Konkus said. “Division 3 as a whole I think is improving substantially in terms of times that are gonna qualify [for the postseason]. I think WashU is definitely on par with that improvement, if not above it.”
In two weeks, WashU will reunite with Wartburg, plus other competitive teams like UChicago, at Augustana’s Interregional Invite. The team’s goal there is to continue to refine race strategy and build confidence going into the UAA conference and regional meets.