Many Reasons for Optimism as Shields
Takes Aim at Second Cross Country Season
News Release Date:
Thursday, September 1, 2011
WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- The reasons for optimism are many as Scott Shields trots toward his second season as coach of the Whitman College men's and women's cross country teams.
Shields, in fact, has 40-plus reasons to be hopeful.
That's the approximate number of runners on his two rosters as the Missionaries get ready to host the season-opening Whitman Invitational at Fort Walla Walla Park.
"We've got a good, healthy turnout for both teams," Shields says. "The numbers are up significantly on the men's side, which helps generate more positive energy on that side of the program."
A year ago, in his first season at the helm, Shields watched the Whitman women finished fourth at the Northwest Conference Championships last fall, missing third by just six place points.
Meanwhile, the Missionary men took sixth at the championship meet, falling just two points shy of fifth.
"It's virtually impossible to tell what's going to happen this fall within the conference," Shields says. "No one has raced yet, and it eventually boils down to which teams stay healthy, and who competes and runs well at the championships.
"But we're excited about where we think our runners are headed this fall. We have good returning talent and some first-year runners who should really help us.
"If we stay healthy and things fall into place for us on race days, there's no reason why both teams shouldn't finish higher in the conference standings. We should be faster and stronger, top to bottom, and that's exciting."
After this Saturday's Whitman Invitational, the Missionaries will spend the next several weeks traveling to races from Seattle and Spokane to Salem.
The 2011 conference championship races are set for Willamette Mission State Park near Brooks, Ore., in late October.
The NCAA Division III West Region races follow on Saturday, Nov. 12, in Pomona College. Running well at regionals means a shot at qualifying, either as a team or individually, for the national championships on Nov. 19 in Winneconne, Wis.
Shields, a 1991 Whitman graduate, coached the women's soccer team for 16 seasons before making the switch last year to the cross country program.
"It's great to have all of runners -- my extended family -- back on campus," he says. "We've only been back together for a few weeks now but the bonds between us are already getting stronger.
"It's wonderful to be around this group. I don't know who is more excited, me or my immediate family. My four- and seven-year-old sons have laced up their shoes and are running around the house to get ready for the first meet."
Of the three assistant coaches who help shepherd his big rosters, one is spouse Marquie Shields.
Whitman Women's Team
Of the 10 women who ran for Whitman at the NWC championships a year ago, all but two are back this fall to lead a roster of 26 runners.
One of the runners lost to graduation, however, was three-time All-NWC speedster Kristen Ballinger, who qualified for nationals in each of the past three season, twice as an individual.
"I don't know that we have anyone who is ready to replace Kristen at this point, but our depth of talent is better than it was a year ago," Shields says. "We have the potential to score better as a team."
Emilie Gilbert, a junior, is the top returnee. She was 10th at the conference finals last October and then earned all-region honors by placing 29th in a field of 119 runners at regionals.
"Emilie is a talented runner with the potential to qualify for nationals," Shields says. "We're looking forward to seeing what she can do in her third season."
Earlier this month, however, it was Gilbert's twin Katri Gilbert grabbing a bit of the limelight by winning the team's 5,000-meter time trial, edging her sister in second place by about seven seconds.
"It was fun to see Katri run at the front of the time trial," Shields says. "She seemed to struggle a bit last fall after having run much better in her first season. It would be great to have both sisters running in top group this fall."
Sophomore Eliza Vistica and senior Jennifer Farley, two runners who finished in Whitman's top five at last year's conference championships, are also back this fall.
"Both Jennifer and Eliza may need some time to get back to where they were last season," Shields says. "One was doing academic research this summer and was one was working at a youth camp back East, so neither one had much time for running."
Junior Lori Mendelsohn, who missed the conference meet last year because of a family commitment, returned to action for the regional finals, running third for Whitman in that race.
"Lori has the ability to run in our top five again this season," Shields says. "She's a strong runner."
Other returnees poised for a run at Whitman's top 10 are sophomore Skye Pauly, seniors Mollee Huisinga and Kelly Jensen, and juniors Shannon McCarty and Lauren Davis.
Pauly and Huisinga finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the recent time trial.
"Mollee has done a wonderful job this summer, logging a lot of mileage," Shields says. "Same thing for Skye, who's been getting herself ready physically and mentally to have a good season."
Jensen, who was seventh in the time trial, is a team captain who also "did a great job as a team leader throughout the summer," Shields says.
McCarty and Davis ran eighth and 11th, respectively, in the time trial.
"They are two more juniors who had good summer and seem ready for a strong fall season," Shields says.
Whitman's big group of returnees also includes seniors Christine Kiely and Madeleine Hess-Maple and a contingent of sophomores led by Alyssa Goard.
"Alyssa did a great job last spring running for Whitman's club track team," Shields says. "She's working hard to put herself into position for a strong cross country season."
"Christine and Madeleine are very positive teammates and role models for the younger runners," he adds. "I don't think I've ever seen either one without a smile on her face at practice."
Other sophomores on the roster are Colleen Bell, Ellen Banks, Annie Watters and Allie Wilson.
"It will be exciting to see the sophomores grow and develop as competitive runners over the new few years."
Of the seven first-year runners on the roster, Erin Campbell (Santa Barbara, Calif.; Dos Pueblos HS) and Caitlin Iglehart (San Francisco, Calif.; Urban School) show the most early promise.
Campbell finished third at the team's time trial while Iglehart shook off a head cold and very recent airline flight to take sixth.
"They are both very good runners with lots of experience," Shields says. "Both are going to help us right away."
Mary Welter (Novato, Calif.; San Marin HS) and Meghan Malloy (Ventura, Calif.; Ventura HS) had the next best first-year performances at the time trial. Welter was 12th and Malloy 14th.
Rounding out the first-year class are Chelan Pauly (Wenatchee, Wash.; Wenatchee HS), Amy Shearer (Seattle, Wash.; Roosevelt HS) and Maggie Hickman (Bozeman, Mont.; Bozeman HS).
"They are all talented and have great potential, so I am excited to see how the first-year women develop this season and beyond," Shields says.
Whitman Men's Team
Looking at his men's team, Shields hesitates to draw too many conclusions from its early 5,000-meter time trial, since that distance is 3,000 meters less than what the men run in competition.
"We'll have a better idea about our men's team after we've run a race or two, but for now we've got a bunch of guys and some new faces who could fill the top spots," he says.
Of Whitman's top five runners at the NWC championships last year, three graduated.
Sophomore Michael Jorgensen seems intent on filling one of those openings at the top.
A year ago, Jorgensen posted Whitman's sixth-best time at the conference finals and then concluded his rookie season by running fifth for the Missionaries at regionals. At the recent time trial, however, he ran a strong first, beating his nearest competitor by seven seconds.
"Michael has done some fantastic work since the end of last season," Shields says. "He really dedicated himself to getting stronger and faster. He is super strong and fit to start the season.
"He was a good runner in high school, but then he came to Whitman and got more serious about his running program and weight training. His times have dropped tremendously."
The biggest questionmark for the men, perhaps, is junior Cory Rand, who finished fourth in the time trial.
"Cory really had a non-existent season last year because of the injuries," Shields says. "He feels good to start the year, so our hope is that we can bring him along slowly and have him return to being one of the top runners in the conference."
Rand finished ninth at the NWC championships as a freshman, earning all-conference honors.
"We have three more runners who did well last fall and also look good to start this season," Shields says.
Junior Taylor Mesodjenik was fifth in the time trial while sophomores Spencer Corwin and Chris Farley were sixth and eighth, respectively.
"All three of those guys have lots of ability and potential," Shields says. "Taylor and Spencer have great attitudes and look strong in a race. Chris might just be scratching the surface in what he can do. His upside his huge."
Other returning runners include two seniors, Brendan Boyer and Yonas Fikak, and two sophomores, Rob Dalton and Taylor Nelson.
"Brendan is one of our team captains and doing a great job with that," Shields says. "He's a solid runner who was our alternate for regionals last year."
Fikak is returning to the team after a one-year hiatus. Nelson, who ran for Whitman in both the conference and regional races last fall, is injured and will probably miss most if not all of this season, Shields says.
"Rob Dalton is another one of our solid runners with a great attitude," Shields says. "We hope to push him a little more this year and see what he can do."
The men's roster also includes eight newcomers, and more than just a few might be ready to make an quick impact.
Colin Domonoske, a freshman from Claremont (Calif.) High School, finished second in time trial.
"Colin had some great times as a high school runner," Shields says. "He's tall and strong and has some speed."
Domonoske, who added five inches in height over the past year, now stands at even six feet.
"He doesn't look like he just went through a growth spurt when he's running," Shields says. "Our hope is that the added strength will make him a stronger runner. He could go from being a really good runner in high school to a phenomenal runner at Whitman."
Ethan Scardina (San Carlos, Calif.; Carlmont HS) missed the time trial with a sore foot but also ranks as one of this year's top recruits, Shields says.
"The foot has set his training back a bit, but hopefully he can work himself back into full strength. It will be fun to see how he does in his first few races."
In addition to Domonoske, five more newcomers placed in the top 11 at the time trial.
Oliver Wood, a junior in his first season of cross country runner, placed third.
"Oliver came to Whitman as a Nordic skier, and he's always had that desire to compete and race," Shields says.
"It's obvious that his ski training and background have done a lot to strengthen his running base. It's great to have him on our team, both because he can run and because he has a very outgoing, fun personality."
Freshman Tyler Goolsby (Mercer Island, Wash.; Mercer Island HS) and first-year sophomore Joe Mayo (Yorba Linda, Calif.; Orange Lutheran HS) finished within a few seconds of one another in the time trial, placing sixth and eighth, respectively.
Two more freshmen, Carl Garrett (Mercer Island, Wash.; Mercer Island HS) and T.C. Heydon (San Antonio, Texas; International School of the Americas), finished 10th and 11th.
"A lot of the new guys are quality runners," Shields says. "They have good potential, so we'll see how their seasons progress."
Two more freshmen are Alex Bye (Minneapolis, Minn.; Southwest HS) and Alex Porter (Renton, Wash.; Kentridge HS).
"I don't think either Alex had their best races in the time trial, but they have the talent and athleticism to be good runners," Shields says. "We'll get them into the program and watch them get faster."
Two first-year sophomores, Brian Raftrey (Palo Alto, Calif.; Palo Alto HS) and John Whiting (Windsor, Cont.; Northwest Catholic HS), complete the throng of new runners.
"Brian wants to work hard and do all the right things," Shields says. "It's good to have him part of the program."
"John is a quality guy and I really enjoy having him as part of the team," Shields says.
- 30 -
CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; email@example.com