The women’s cross-country season started out strong but in the end showed room for improvement. For the women, winning was not the only objective, being a part of a team and excelling in academics were important as well.

“This season was a struggle, with athletes entering the season injured,” assistant coach Justin Gillette said, referring to junior Alita Yoder and sophomore Alli Beitler. “These injured athletes all sustained injuries that were non-running related. I feel that two of our top runners were injured this year, but battled strong for the team. Recruiting is harder when the team struggles, but luckily the healthy ladies worked extremely hard to finish the season well and we have a good group to build on next year.”

Senior Leah Thill described the season’s highs and lows. The women placed strong in their first two regular meets, ranking 3rd out of 5 at the Grace College Invitational and 1st out of 3 at Goshen’s Hokem Karem race. Thill admitted the team’s 8th place finish out of 10 at the mid-central conference was nothing to brag about, but she spoke highly of her team and her experience running with them.

“It was a great season and I really regret not joining sooner since I only ran my junior and senior year,” Thill said. “It’s probably one of the best moments of my college career, being a part of this team, besides being on SST. But I do think that the team shows potential for next year and I’m sad I won’t be apart of it.”

Head coach Doug Yoder also foresees the women competing at a level the men’s cross-country team found themselves at this year.

“If we are able to sign a few key recruits for next year, the women’s team will be on the same level as the men’s team,” Yoder said. “They could easily be one of the top three teams in the conference.”

Yoder hopes to bring in a few new faces in order to add depth to the current team. Returning key runners include Jenica Corbett, Karla Folker, Audrey Thill, Yoder, Beitler and Erin Helmuth. During the final race at Shanklin Park during the conference championships, senior Sarah Rutt, the Thill sisters and Yoder finished with career bests while Beitler and Corbett finished with the fastest times of their 2011 season. Folker also finished in Goshen’s top seven runners.

Though unsure of her athletic plans for the following year, first-year Ali Hochstetler finished first out of the team with a career best of 19.58.6. In the history of Goshen’s cross-country program, Hochstetler is one of eight first-years to finish a race under 20 minutes.

“It was a lot of fun getting to know the team and having people to motivate you,” Hochstetler said. “I really enjoy running, I just don’t enjoy racing as much.”

In addition to individuals breaking Goshen athletic records, the team also excelled in studies.

“One important highlight of the Goshen College cross-country teams is that they are academic all-American teams,” Gillette said. “Only the cross-country and track teams achieved that honor at Goshen College. This means the team had an average GPA above 3.50, which proves our athletes come to Goshen College for more than just athletics.”

As the 2011 season came to a close, Gillette and Yoder talk about their plans for the women in the 2012 season. Along with “maintaining an encouraging and positive attitude to build success,” as Gillette mentioned, both coaches hope to help the women shave minutes off their best times to eventually compete with the top teams.

“We will build on better conditioning coming into the next season and, in turn, injury prevention,” Yoder said. “We will improve on our team depth by lowering each athlete’s times by thirty seconds to one minute and thirty seconds. By doing this we will be competitive with every team we run against.”