Senior women look to make history

Seniors Courtney Waltbilig, Ashley Bunch, Victoria Kline and Kimi Shank will try to finish their careers as conferece champions again tomorrow.

Seniors Courtney Waltbilig, Ashley Bunch, Victoria Kline and Kimi Shank will try to finish their careers as conferece champions again tomorrow.

Jordan Larimore

The Women’s Cross Country team at Missouri Southern has a chance to leave its mark on history tomorrow.

The Lions have won the MIAA Championship three years in a row and look largely like the favorites to finish atop the conference again tomorrow. They come into the race ranked no. 3 nationally in Division-II Cross Country.

For the group of seniors Southern has, that would mean wrapping up their careers with a conference title in each of their years running for the Lions.

These seniors are Kimi Shank, Victoria Kline, Ashley Bunch, Silvia Pineda and Courtney Waltbilig.

This is the group whom Head Coach Patty Vavra gives much credit to for beginning the program as one of Southern’s best, and one of the best in the region.

“I feel really good about every team we’ve had but I think this team has an opportunity of a lifetime,” Vavra said. “And they’ve created that opportunity themselves. But it’s probably the best team we’ve had at Missouri Southern. And at the same time we know that sometimes it could be a moment or a day away that if the wrong person gets injured or sick at the wrong time…”

Although the seniors are confident in their abilities and proud of their accomplishments, they don’t take any meets for granted.

“Coach Vavra’s always told us you’re only as good as your last race so, I mean, if we win a race one weekend but then we do horrible the next weekend, you just have to try and do your best each week,” Kline said. “You can’t get too big of a head because then it’ll catch up with you.”

These women work well together, and, according to Pineda, it is a very team-oriented group.

“Everybody pushes everybody, everyday, like on our workouts and runs everybody pushes each other, and whoever’s falling behind usually tries harder because they know that if they try to get to the person in front its like, it’s not just personal satisfaction but it’s a whole group satisfaction,” she said.

The women are certainly aware of the rarity of the chance they have tomorrow and are looking forward to the task.

“It means a lot, our coach told us yesterday, that since Southeast Missouri has left, no school has won four in a row yet,” said Shank. “So the pressure’s on. We can do it.”

Vavra has this group of seniors believing in their ability, and their recent success has them confident that they can succeed.

“We’re running better than we wever have,” Waltbilig said. “We have a lot of strong people, I mean we’re seniors a lot of us, like half our team is seniors. So we’re all very experienced and we’ve been here before.”

The women believe this title is their chance to make their case as one of the great teams in the history of the University, and even the MIAA as a whole.

“I think that winning this fourth title and just having a great season will make us the best team that MissouriSouthern women’s has ever seen,” said Bunch. “I mean, already we’ve climbed the national polls to number three which has never been done before, I think our highest ranking before that was seventh. So I just think we have great individuals on this team that make a great team and really work together well.”

In fact, they feel that their goals lie even beyond this conference race. The seniors are not looking past the conference meet, but have the Regional and National races on their radar.

“Even from the first meet we’ve been looking towards the National meet. Its not something that after Regionals you start thinking about Nationals,” Kline said. “We’ve been thinking about it since Nationals last year.”

Closing out the season with a conference win, and even more, would be the perfect end to a career as close to perfect as they come for this group of seniors.

“The last four years have been like a journey and I think it’s been amazing just to be a part of it,” Bunch said. “And just winning the last one would just like, put the icing on the cake, I guess as they’d say it. It’d be awesome. We can do it.”

All their success, and perhaps just hours spent together, has made this group a close-knit one. The women spend time together as a team outside of practice to further their bond.

“We’re a family. We are. We’re a big family; we do everything together. We can’t go home hardly ever so we take care of each other,” Bunch said.

“We do some activities where we get together and do like pasta night or movie night,” Pineda said.

Even with everything they have going for them, the seniors make it a point not to be overconfident as they compete in the last meets of their careers.

“We’re not cocky, we’re confident. There’s a big difference there. We believe in the training that we put in and ourselves, the hard work,” Kline said. “We don’t just expect to go out there and be good, we put the work in so that we know we’re gonna be good.”