When Casey Norton ran cross country in high school, she usually had three teammates, sometimes in a good year, four.
On Saturday, at 9:45 a.m. ET in St. Leo, Fla., Norton will be competing in the NCAA Championships for the fourth straight season with her Shippensburg (Pa.) teammates. In addition, the Shippensburg men’s team will also be there, competing in the men’s race at 8:30 a.m.
The team experience has made Norton’s cross country experience at Shippensburg wonderful. The camaraderie extends to the men’s team. Both teams finished first on Nov. 5 at the Atlantic Regional.
“To step into Shippensburg my freshman year was a completely different experience,” Norton said. “I never had a team like that. Now, going to nationals for a fourth time with a group of girls who are very motivated and very determined and really great people to be around, that is the best feeling in the world. They have been an inspiration to me. I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to run with them the past few years.”
The encouragement from teammates and coach Steve Spence has helped Norton attain achievements she might not have expected two or three years ago. Norton took first at regional, finishing 22 seconds ahead of the next competitor.
“She made steady progress every year, which is the goal,” Spence said. “One of the things she had to overcome was confidence. I always thought she had the ability to run faster than she was doing. She had a little bit of race anxiety that was keeping her from performing. She seems to have overcome those demons this year, which is fantastic. She is running well now.”
Norton said taking first at regional was one of the best feelings she has ever had.
“I was hoping it would go that way,” Norton said. “I wasn’t sure going into it. Slippery Rock is an extremely hard course. It is a very hilly course, a very challenging course. I am glad I was able to prevail over that. I have a lot of support, and that is a great thing for me. I never expected to finish first. It is humbling and very special.”
Shippensburg men’s and women’s cross country teams spent last week and the early part of this week preparing for the national championships.
Most likely, the temperatures will be warmer in Florida than they are in Pennsylvania. Spence is preparing his teams for that climate change. Even with temperatures in the 40s and 50s in Pennsylvania, the Raiders have been running in tights, long sleeves and jackets. Normally, they would train in shorts.
Norton is looking forward to running in Florida. A year ago, the national championship was in Joplin, Mo., and it was a crisp, windy day with temperatures hovering in the low 40s.
“I love the warm weather,” Norton said. “I think it makes you more loose. You don’t have to worry about putting on so many layers. I love going to Florida. There is a lot there to see. It will be a nice experience.”
Strong culture brings success to Augustana men’s cross country team
Senior Glen Ellingson arrived at Augustana in 2012 thinking he knew quite a bit about cross country running.
“He had a good high-school career, but he has really flourished in the college setting,” Augustana cross coach Tracy Hellman said.
Indeed. Each season, Ellingson has improved, going from Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2013, to taking 34th at the national championships in 2014 to earning All-American honors last season by taking 11th at the national meet.
This could be the best national meet, yet, for Ellingson and the Augustana men’s cross country team. The Vikings won their fifth straight Central Region title last weekend. Ellingson finished third overall.
It is a case-by-case basis, but runners coming into the cross country program will sometimes redshirt to get acclimated to running cross country in college.
“When I came in from high school, I thought I knew what I was doing,” Ellingson said. “After being here for five years, I realize I didn’t have any idea what was going on back then. What I have learned in the past four years have made me a better runner.”
The success of the cross country team at Augustana is the product of having good student-athletes entering the program each year.
“As the program has been improving on a national level, it is tough for our freshmen to contribute,” Hellman said. “It is a good advantage to have. We leave it up to the kids. If the kid has an opportunity to redshirt, I think it is in their best interest.”
Ellingson credits the overall culture at Augustana on why the team has enjoyed success through the years.
“Over time, this program is something I have grown really proud of,” Ellingson said. “One of the things that has meant the most is after running well at a meet or after winning a championship, the alumni will contact me and let me know they are proud of me. We have built up a really special culture here, and that has caused us every year to progress to get better.”
Last year, the men finished seventh at the national meet, and two years ago, the Vikings were third. Augustana enters the national meet ranked sixth in the USTFCCCA top 25.
Men’s teams to watch are defending national champion Colorado School of Mines, Adams State, Grand Valley State and Chico State. The Vikings want to be in that mix.
“Every year is a different year, but they are tied together,” Hellman said. “I am proud of this group, writing their own chapter, their own type of season. This is one of the better teams we have ever had. Does that mean we are going to place as high as we ever had? We will see. It is fun being in the conversation of going to nationals and really competing for something.”
Western Washington women’s soccer team advances to West Region semifinals
No. 1 seed Western Washington remains undefeated by scoring both its goals in the first 16 minutes to beat Central Washington 2-0 on Saturday in West Region second-round match.
Western Washington, 20-0-1, will play No. 2 seed UC San Diego on Friday in the West Region semifinals.
“Exactly the way you want to start a playoff game,” said Western Washington coach Travis Connell on the school’s website. “We got an early goal, added on a second goal and then we defended well and moved the ball around really well. So a great team effort, lots of people contributed, and we are super happy with the result.”
Pfeiffer men’s soccer team advances in Southeast Regional
Pfeiffer men’s soccer team exploded for five goals in the second half in its 6-1 victory over Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday in the second round of the Southeast Regional.
In the victory, Jaime Siaj had two goals and two assists and Nathan Regis had a goal and two assists.