As the grass thawed in Haverford, PA, the Mules tightened the spikes on the bottom of their shoes. In the past three weeks, the Mules have run 100 miles in preparation for these five quick miles. Oct. 29 will be an important day for the Mules but is just another stop in their NCAA campaign, with regionals in sight.
The training leading up to this day was relentless. Captain of the women’s team Adrienne Ellison ‘23 described a training program that would make most people’s legs ache at the thought. “We have run A LOT of hills during training this season. We have done hill training mostly because DeSales [University] (Regionals course) is extremely hilly and difficult; we are training to be comfortable with hills. The Friday before conferences, we ran a tempo run on the DeSales course to be further familiarized with it and run a few seconds off of race pace.”
The DeSales course is littered with hills that stand as towers of apathy, remorseless in the pain that they inflict on the runners who dare to challenge them at sub-six or even sub-five minute miles. Both the men’s and women’s teams traveled on Oct. 21 to challenge themselves and, as Jason Ivey ‘23 said, “knowing that course like the back of our hand will give us a genuine edge,” in the regional meet on Nov. 12.
Besides specific regional training the teams pursued self-improvement in workouts meant to increase the teams endurance at high-intensity intervals. Ellison highlighted that, “At the peak of our training, we did two difficult workouts on the track. The first was 3-mile repeats. This is when we run faster than the race pace for a mile and get faster with each rep. We did one tough speed workout which was two sets of 1200, 800, 600, 400, 200 with fairly short rest (2-1 minute rest) to work in some speed to our training.”
After the race the cross-country coach released a summary email to both teams saying, “Both the men and women’s cross country teams placed 8th today in the Centennial Conference Championship, one of the most competitive Division III cross country conferences in the nation. Adam Stefan ‘23 once again led the men as the top runner for Muhlenberg, Markus Vottero [‘25], Connor Soderstedt [‘23], David Ludwig [‘26] and Jason Ivey [‘23] rounded out the Muhlenberg top five. Adrienne Ellison led the women followed closely by Caiti Kinnear [‘24], Lauren House [‘25], Julia Tassone [‘26] and Izzy Hoffman [‘26]. Muhlenberg ran extremely competitively and is in a great position to place higher at the regional qualifier as a team that even placed today in the conference meet.”
These results follow the team’s trend of constant growth and reflect the caliber of runners that the Muhlenberg team is facing. Ivey explains that “One thing you have to acknowledge though is that the CC is one of the most competitive conferences in the country based on how many runners they send to nationals each year so take the placement with a grain of salt.”
On the men’s team three runners PR’d with Ivey leading the charge with a 24 second PR. Hayden Klein ‘25 beat his best time by an impressive 12 seconds with Ethan Yazdanyar ‘25 following in stride beating their personal record by five seconds.
The tenacious athletic temperament is further exemplified in Ellison’s outlook post-race saying, “I would also add in cross country the whole season is built up for Regionals. Our season is far from over ‘til we hit the course on November 12. We have goals set throughout the season to help us ensure we can meet our goals at Regionals. We expected to place higher at conferences than we did; however, all of the women know how they can adjust to make sure we beat those teams ahead of us,”
“I have also learned sometimes it is better to lead by example than to be over controlling” said Ellison. Ellison and Ivey’s performance in the past meet beacons shining to their young team. As each captain crests the hills of the DeSales course their light will not disappear in the valleys that follow. These seniors and Stefan have brought this team out of COVID into a new era of ambitious and close knit runners. Ellison reminisces about what the team has meant to her saying, “Leadership is something I am always working on. Being captain of the track team last year, I felt prepared to be captain in cross country but with a new group of people brings new challenges. I had to learn how to instill a good team culture and build trust with each other on the team. Additionally, something big I will take with me after graduation is that support and guidance looks different for everyone and I have to adjust to each person. This is why it is important to build a close relationship with my teammates so I can learn about them and how I can support them.”
The women’s cross-country roster is built by young athletes such as Julia Tassone ‘26 who has shown incredible growth. Ellison is most proud of her internalization of a lesson important to many athletes and college students. “We are all very proud of Julia’s performance and she has been training very hard during practice and the results are showing now. One of the toughest lessons to learn in running is to trust the process because you do not see immediate results.”