A Welcome Addition to the Team
- By Daniel Whitehead
- October 29, 2010 09:51 AM
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - When the West Virginia University cross country team suits up for the BIG EAST Championships on Saturday morning in Syracuse, N.Y., a new face will be among the team leaders that cross the finish line for the Mountaineers.
Katie Gillespie, a Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, native and Cedarville University (OH) transfer, has been a nice addition to the team this season as she has led WVU in two of the three races she has participated in. Her arrival at WVU also proved timely in the wake of the announcement in early September that seniors Kaylyn Christopher, Jessica O’Connell and Kate Harrison would redshirt this season.
She began her WVU career with a first-place finish out of 76 runners at the BIG EAST Preview on the very course that this weekend’s meet will take place. She followed that effort with another first-place mark at the Notre Dame Invitational two weeks later, beating out 160 other runners for the personal title and leading WVU to a second-place finish at the race.
Her impressive finishes at this year’s meets did not come without prior training and experience, largely built up during her time at Cedarville and in high school. She attributes her success thus far to the training she received at the NAIA-level university.
“The training was similar to high school except with more workouts and quite a bit more mileage put in,” Gillespie said. “I thought my coach was great at helping me adjust from high school running and it was a smooth transition. I didn’t have any injuries, either, so I’m glad I left in good health.”
The magnitude of her accomplishments at Cedarville is highlighted by a 6th-place finish at the NAIA Championships in November of 2009. However, it was because of the high level of success there that she decided to look for a grander scale of competition, which is how she eventually ended up at WVU.
“I loved my time at Cedarville and wouldn’t change it for anything, but I was ready for a higher level of competition,” she said. “It’s really not comparable because the competition is at such a higher level here in Division I. The NAIA has many good runners, but the NCAA has a little more ‘umph’ to it. I’ll race hard and do my best at the NCAA Championships this year, but I won’t be upset if I don’t make the top 10.”
As a new member of the WVU track and cross country teams, the exercise physiology major is impressed with the talent level of the program and grateful for the support shown by her coach and teammates to help with the adjustment.
“It is awesome and something I’ve always wanted,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m on my own but am surrounded by quality runners. Everyone here is as fast as or faster than I am, so I don’t have to think as hard when I’m racing – I just have to keep with the pack or know that they’re close behind. All the girls were very welcoming and kind to me when I arrived here and I value the friendships I’ve been able to build with them.”
Gillespie and junior Sarah-Anne Brault are expected to lead the team against conference foes No. 1 Villanova, No. 5 Georgetown, No. 8 Syracuse, No. 13 Providence and several other recognized programs like Notre Dame, Louisville and South Florida.
Brault finished the Penn State National two weeks ago in 11th place followed closely behind by Gillespie, who arrived in 17th overall. Junior Ahna Lewis and redshirt senior Maria Dalzot also had nice performances to help close the gap between the front runners, which is one of the team’s goals heading into the conference finale. Gillespie hopes to finish in the top 15 to help the Mountaineers against the tough competition.
“Like every race, we want to race to our potential,” Gillespie said. “As a team, we want to close the gap from the one-to-five runners. We just need to tighten up a little bit more to make sure our times are closer together. I think we progressed a lot at the Penn State National. Everyone is ready to race to see how we match up with the conference.”
Coach Cleary will also race Stephanie Caruso, Jamie Cokeley, Aubrey Moskal, Jordan Hamric, Sarah Martinelli and Hallie Portner at the meet.