By Alana Hu
Labor Day weekend will mark the beginning of the men’s and women’s cross country seasons at the Washington University Invitational in St. Louis, Mo.
After dominating the TranSouth with almost 20 men’s and women’s conference titles, the team will prepare for new challenges of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
In the second year of the NCAA membership process, the team will run in the Gulf South Conference Championship. However, it will not be eligible to compete for a title.
“We hope to be competitive in the Gulf South Conference right away and build on this year to establish ourselves as a consistent threat to win the conference championship when we become full members of the NCAA,” said Gary Johnson, cross country coach.
The team of 18 consists of seven new runners, including graduate student Beth Wilson.
Wilson, a graduate of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, and a graduate student in the master of business administration program, ran cross country in high school but did not during her three years of college.
In April 2010, Wilson resumed running daily as a hobby and eventually began running with some members of the team.
With her status as a full-time student and remaining four semesters out of 10 of eligibility to participate in athletics, she is able to join the team for two years.
“The MBA program here is a two-year program, and with my four semesters of eligibility to participate in sports remaining, I figured ‘why not?’” Wilson said.
Wilson had already established relationships with members of the team when running recreationally so she did not have any difficult transitions to overcome when she officially joined, she said.
“I think she just heard about the cross country team and decided to come out with us,” said junior Allison Martin. “Her background story is amazing. She is really good and surprised us all. She did workouts with us, and she got better and better, and we said, ‘Hey, you would be good with us.'”
At 28, Wilson is a wife, mother, full-time student and runner who practices with the team daily, averaging more than 45 to 50 miles a week.
“She brings this element of maturity to the team,” Martin said. “She really coordinates a lot on the teams, such as getting us all motivated and practicing on mornings we don’t want to.”
Johnson said the women’s team has the potential to be one of the strongest in Union’s history.
“Our first couple of weeks of practice has been very special and competitive,” Johnson said. “If we can keep the team healthy and continue training as well as we have the first few weeks, this should be a very memorable season with a shot at setting some new team records.”
The team will compete in six events this season and host an invitational in October, concluding its season in November with participation in the NCCAA National Championships in Cedarville, Ohio.