Cross Country |
Nov. 24, 2008
By JEFF GENTIL
As the women’s cross country team winds its way through the season, their focus is on present day. In the backs of their minds, however, there are much bigger goals — the BIG EAST Championships, All-Ohio, the Great Lakes Regional, and, ultimately, the National Cross Country Championships. If they are to reach all of those goals, it may come down to performances from junior Tamara Masters and senior Megan Knapp.
You may already know the sophomore duo of Lilian Jelimo and Jill Glassmeyer, who give the Bearcats a good one-two punch. The duo you might not know as much about is Masters and Knapp, perhaps the guiding force behind the women’s team and its success.
Masters, a junior from Sylvania, Ohio, has really come on this season despite missing most of team
“She could have gotten very little done (while away),” said UC women’s head coach Bill Schnier. “But she got an enormous amount done. I would send her our workouts and she did them faithfully. She was ready to go (this fall).”
training in the spring and summer due to a co-op for six months.
Masters said it was difficult to be away from her teammates, but she learned a lot about herself while she was away.
“It is great to be back with my teammates,” she said. “When you don’t have mandatory workouts to attend, you either have to push yourself or just do what you feel is best. It’s a test of motivation and dedication. I just want to be a positive addition and hope the positive energy rubs off (on the rest of the team).”
So far, Masters has steadily closed the gap on her sophomore teammate, Glassmeyer, and finished ahead of her in three of the first four races. Although the gap is still wide between everyone else and Jelimo, Masters said it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“We all benefit from running together (in practice),” Masters said. “If we can get closer to Lilian, it’s better for the team.”
Knapp, a senior from Shelby, Ohio, has raised her running level and in the process has contributed to the team success.
“At the beginning of the season, I was not happy (with my performance),” she said. “But the last few meets have been better. I know I can run harder. You’re never really satisfied.”
It’s that kind of attitude that led Knapp to be elected by her teammates as captain this season.
“She loves the sport,” Schnier said. “She trains well and is extremely conscientious. She has taken (captaincy) seriously and is a great team person. Ultimately you want to do well individually, but Megan’s real goal is to contribute to the team. She is quiet and a little more inward, but she is more leadership by example in standards.”
Being a team captain is something familiar to Knapp.
“I was pretty honored (to be elected),” she said. “I was a team captain in high school. And my roommate, (2007 senior) Jennifer Hannen, was captain last year so I know what to do. I just want to lead and encourage those who are down. I don’t really say too much. But, if something needs to be said, I say it.”
On the other hand, there is Masters’ leadership style, which is completely different.
“Tamara is a vocal leader,” Schnier said. “She encourages other people and is very outgoing. She rejoices in the success of others.”
But that’s not to say there is one best way to lead a team.
“I’ve always been more on the vocal side,” Masters said. “I like leadership on a vocal level. But you need silent leaders, too. It creates a good balance.”
Leadership, whether by example or vocal, can be helpful to an individual runner’s success.
However, what may be more important is an inner drive to be the best.
“With Megan, she just decided she wanted to be good,” Schnier said. “Both girls love the sport and it brings results. For anyone to succeed, you first have to have a love for the sport.”
For Masters, it is more than just love of the sport that pushes her.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met my own expectations,” she said. “I have very high standards and I’m never satisfied with my race results. I just haven’t reached that point (of satisfaction) yet. I can always be better.”
As is the case for a lot of Bearcat runners, Masters and Knapp were good runners in high school, and since their time under the guidance of Schnier, they have consistently gotten better.
“It’s a mixture of good coaching and training with teammates who are encouraging,” Knapp said. “I give a lot of credit to Coach Schnier. He’s a good coach.”
The coach attributes Masters’ success to her positive attitude.
“She has done exceptionally well,” Schnier said. “She came here with basically no high school credentials. But every practice she has a terrific spirit. She does all the right things and has improved steadily.”
There is still a lot of running left in Knapp’s UC career. But as a senior, she looks back on her time as a Bearcat and reflects:
“It’s been better than I thought it would be,” she said. “Coming into college I never thought I’d run varsity. I’m pretty happy with my career. It’s gone very well.”
Don’t yet close the books on her career. The women’s team still has some major goals to achieve.
“Our goal is to make the Nationals,” said Schnier. “We can’t do it two (runners) deep (referring to Jelimo and Glassmeyer); we have to be five deep. I think with Masters and Knapp, we’re now four deep.”
With the gap closing between the usual top two performers — Jelimo and Glassmeyer — and Masters and Knapp, it’s only going to make the team that much better.
“It (closing the gap) means we’re better,” Knapp said. “Our whole team is better in general. If we can have a fifth runner step up, we can make it to Nationals. (Freshman) Alison Leckrone is a steady runner and she can be one of our key runners. Making Nationals is going to be hard, but it’s a legitimate goal.”
Masters agrees that the Nationals are the ultimate goal, but a key is not to get ahead of themselves as a unit.
“We have a lot of things we want to do before then (the Nationals),” she said. “If we do well in the BIG EAST Championships and the All-Ohio (and the Great Lakes Regionals), we can surprise a lot of teams. So far, we’re not getting the respect we deserve. But that’s fine. I kind of like being the underdog.”
After a sixth-place finish in the Great Lakes Regional meet last fall, and returning five strong runners, there were high hopes for the women’s team coming into this season. So far, they haven’t disappointed.
“We’ve gotten off to a great start,” Masters said. “I think everyone is pleased with the results so far. We’ve had some good (race) times and continue to improve. And we’re not about to stop.”