Women’s Cross Country Rises to Top in Three Years

The women’s cross country team focuses on more than just running.

Oct. 20, 2009 By Jenna Bartlo

The Biola University women’s cross-country team has grown in the past three years and in more ways than just numbers. Rising to the top of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) rankings from not making the cut four years ago, cross-country coach Jonathan Zimmerman has brought the team to new heights. However, he claims he is just blessed by a great team of women — who love to run.

When Zimmerman came to Biola in 2006, the women’s cross-country team consisted of three seniors and four juniors, with no promising recruits for the following year.  He immediately started recruiting. The next year, he had a team of nine, most of whom are now the top seven runners out of the 13 women on the team currently. Zimmerman doesn’t recruit students just for their running abilities though.

“Don’t come here just to run, you need to want this environment too,” Zimmerman tells prospective recruits.

He ensures the environment at Biola is conducive to the student’s needs, desires and a healthy fit for them, making sure recruits stay in residence halls during their visits with other members of the cross-country team. This allows the team to let Zimmerman know if the student fits well with the team. He understands there is a lot more to a good cross-country team than just having outstanding runners, the women focus on academic excellence and representing Biola well as a whole. Many of the women on the team were deemed scholar athletes by the NAIA last year. 

“I challenge them to think big, then think bigger. We’re going to have fun, but represent Biola the best you can — we’re part family, part professional, part competitive,” said Zimmerman.

When many of the current women on the team started as freshman, they quickly became leaders as the small number of seniors on the team graduated.

Junior Erika Perez, one of Zimmerman’s first recruits, noted the transition her freshman year on the team.

“Coach had to teach us how to be leaders, we had a lot to learn,” said Perez.

Sarah Brooks, junior, agreed and said it’s one of the reasons they are close now.

“It forced us to learn together, we all had challenges and we had to learn and struggle together,” she said.

The team’s closeness and genuine, Christ-centered mindset is obvious upon meeting the team, a key to their success. One of the girls noted, they don’t run to run their own best race, but run to run their best race for the team.

“If I don’t run a good race, I’m letting down my team,” said junior Kelsey Gasner.

It’s clear the women on the team support each other.

“It’s hard work, but we’re so blessed to experience the pain and joys, it’s helped me stick with it, that’s why we’re doing so well,” said Brooks.

Sophomore Nychele Fischetti experienced the now junior’s leadership and guidance as a freshman on the team last year.

“They guided us a lot and came behind us,” said Nychele. She also noted one of the reasons the team is high in the rankings.

“We don’t have one good top runner, we are all really close together, within 18 seconds of each other — something that doesn’t happen.” That small gap increases their numbers competitively with other teams.

Zimmerman challenges the women to create goals for themselves at the beginning of each year and then he will help them meet their goals. He discarded the use of captains on the team allowing the older women to lead the younger, but to ultimately lead together.

Their goals cover the “little things” such as sleeping eight hours a night and taking vitamins to spiritual goals such as praying before and after running and accomplishment goals like being in the top five at Nationals. They even have relational and attitude goals focusing on having a team mentality and the fact that everyone counts. The women want to make sure everyone is included, no matter how long you have been on the team, each agreeing that cross-country is team oriented, each person counts and you need to depend on each other.

“This team challenges me to be a part of something bigger – a biblical concept,” said Brooks. “I came in as an independent person and God has challenged me and shown me how it’s good to be a part of a team.”

“It’s really a family, not everyone has this opportunity,” said junior Katie Thede.

The team is currently third in the nation (NAIA) and second in the conference (GSAC), the highest the team has ever ranked. Although, they are not ranked against D1 schools, they recently ranked higher at a meet against schools such as University of Southern California, University of California Irvine and University of California San Diego. The women along with Zimmerman have built the team up raising confidence and support for the team.

Support the women’s cross-country team by coming to their last home meet at Biola University’s invitational on Saturday, October 24, 2009 at 9:15 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. for the men.

Learn more about Biola athletics.

Written by Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator. Jenna can be reached at (562) 777-4061 or through email at jenna.l.bartlo@biola.edu.

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