Heading into the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) championship meet, Southwestern University Pirates head coach Andrew Diehl challenged members of the women's team to put together their best run.
For seniors like Morgan Forteith and Trinh Ha, it was about digging deep to unearth any untapped potential near the end of their collegiate careers. For newcomers like first year Valerie Acosta, it was about getting a taste of how close they were to a higher level of performance.
The Pirates accomplished season-best 6K individual times across the board, including the team running its best time of the season at 2:16.49.
"It was a fun season but definitely a growth year," Diehl said, noting the interesting dynamic of a roster comprised of just two seniors and four first year student-athletes. "We still had a good year and everyone had season bests at the conference championships, which is when you hope to peak."
Southwestern took to the road early in the season, placing fourth in a field of seven teams at the Our Lady of the Lake University Invitational in San Antonio, finishing with a team time of 2:04:12 in a 5K run.
Acosta set the pace for the Pirates, finishing 21st with a time of 22:08.6. As a first year student-athlete, Acosta led Southwestern in each race, posting her best time in the conference championship meet at 26:44.8 in a 6K.
"She was awesome, just a great teammate," Diehl said of Acosta, who was on the 2018 SCAC All-Sportsmanship team. "The women's team did a lot of bonding this year, becoming closer teammates which will pay off down the road."
The Rhodes Invitational was the Pirates' first 6K event of the season and the first official 6K competition for the four first year runners with 5K runs being the standard for high school meets. Southwestern finished 15th in a field of 20 with a total time of 2:23.54.
Short two runners for the next meet, Southwestern did not have enough members to qualify for a team score at the University of Incarnate Word Invitational but still showed steady growth with Acosta improving from 27:01.7 in her first 6K run to 26:47.4. Senior Trinh Ha also improved from 27:47.7 to 27:22.3 and first-year runner Emma McCandless went from 28:22.2 at the Rhodes College Invitational to 27.59.5.
"Emma was a wonderful surprise in how well she competed," Diehl said. "Especially considering that, while she's always been a runner, she's never been a member of a cross country team before this season."
The meet was an important moment for the young team.
"It was a good measuring stick with it being a difficult course and their times gave them confidence they were progressing in the right direction and their training was paying off," Diehl said. "Conquering that course helped gear them up for the conference championships and gave them confidence in themselves."
The Pirates finished fifth in a field of seven at the SCAC Championship Meet. More importantly, their total time improved drastically, going from 2:23:54 in their first 6K run to 2:16:49.
On the more difficult course in Mount Berry, Georgia competing in the NCAA Regional Finals, the Pirates finished 27th out of 30 teams, recording a total time of 2:21:01 with Acosta (26:44.74, 135th) and Ha (26:57.00, 145th) pacing Southwestern.