Is it realistic to think that a roster with 16 athletes — only five of which are seniors — can or could reach from within and be successful?

Whitman’s women’s cross country team affirmed that the seemingly unthinkable can be realized last fall when it won the Northwest Conference championship — the first for the program in over two decades.

“We had strong core leadership coming back,” Whitman coach Scott Shields said of the team that featured seniors Whitney Rich, Kristin Wanke, Bryn Carlson, Mika Nevo, and Maisie Thomas. “Our sights were set on lofty goals. Our mindset catapulted us. Our confidence helped our season overall.”

Regular-season highlights included a second-place performance at the Pacific Lutheran Invitational and a fourth in the Lewis & Clark Invite.

“We ran quality times at PLU,” Shields said. “For various reasons we never had an opportunity to see what the team could do at full strength. But we always plan to run our best at the end of the season.”

Rich led the Blues’ charge in the NWC meet. She posted a race-winning time of 21 minutes, 35.20 seconds. Wanke and sophomore Chloe Michaels were sixth and 11th, respectively.

“I knew Whitney would win the race,” Shields said. “We showed the amazing depth that we had.”

Rich went on win the West Regional and Wanke finished in the top seven as the Blues took fifth place. It marked the first time Whitman qualified two individuals for the national championships, Shields said.

“Whitney broke her foot during that race, but still won,” Shields said. “Kristin threw everything together at the right time. It was an amazing performance.”

Rich placed a program-best fourth in the national meet. She was named both conference and West Region Runner of the Year for her efforts.

“Having Whitney and Kristin (helped us) feel stronger as a group,” Shields said, “and (provided) motivation and power.”

Comprising the best of the rest on this championship team were juniors Ellie Chidsey; sophomores Sophia Bigio, Sylvie Corwin, Julia Hess, Alexa Lim, and Laura Mendoza, and first-year performers Piper Brown, Samantha Crumbaugh, and twins Ella and Jade Greenbaugh — who “added to the overall depth” of the Blues’ roster, he said.

“There was a tremendous force of vision for the team this season,” Shields said. “We plan for everything to fall into place physically and mentally during the championship part of the season. We showed that we were better than the other teams had predicted.

“We knew we could do it this year and everything fell into place.”

Roy Elia can be reached at

Roy Elia can be reached at