The final race for the 2018 cross country season

Lexi Kerr, Sports Editor

The Northwest Conference Championships are right around the corner for the Linfield men’s and women’s cross country teams.

The meet will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday on the McIver Park course where the team competed two weeks ago in the Lewis and Clark Invitational.

Cross country coach Mike Blackman said the team has been training all season in preparation for the bigger meets that come at the end.

“My coaching philosophy is to prepare for the end of the season, and this year’s team has embraced that idea,” Blackman said.

Last year, the women’s team placed second at the Conference meet, but after losing six seniors who placed highly, Blackman said the team will face different challenges this year.

“Last year’s team was very talented. This year [the team] has talent but not a lot of experience,” Blackman said.

Blackman added that some of the freshman did not have much prior experience with cross country running and had to learn new competition strategies over the course of the season.

“I’m really happy with how the freshman have grown this year. They’ve learned how to race differently and have done a good job of it.”

Freshman Nicholas Oja Zdroy, who ran for his high school cross country team during his junior and senior year, said running in college has been an adjustment in terms of training and competing. “The volume and mileage at Linfield is larger [than in high school]. I’m glad to be incrementally working towards a more difficult workout regimen,” Oja Zdroy said.

Blackman said two seniors are expected to place highly at the Conference meet: Courtney Beard on the women’s side and Grant Blodgette on the men’s side. Beard, who placed fourth at last year’s conference meet, is expected to finish “right up front,” according to Blackman.

Blackman said he’s seen significant improvement in Blodgette’s training and competition this season.

“He’s has made some changes to focus on his running, and he went from being pretty darn average to being in the top 20 runners in the conference,” Blackman said of Blodgette.

Oja Zdroy said though he has had a tendency of getting nervous before races, this season he has learned to channel his nervous energy into his running. “I’d like to see an improvement on my time or beat some conference competitors that are ranked faster than me,” he said

Blackman said that this is exactly what he hopes his team will do–take what they learned about training and competing during the season and use it to race as best they can against the other teams in the conference. “It’s not about what your time was each day—it’s about how you raced against your competitors,” Blackman said.