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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

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‘A unit from day one’: Belles find success behind mix of youth and experience

Saint Mary’s capped off a strong season by posting its best finish at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional since 2015

Heading into last fall, Saint Mary’s cross country was busy introducing a large cast of new runners to the program following the departure of a deep senior class.

“It was just a big change in team dynamics,” Belles head coach Jackie Bauters said. “We really focused on establishing our culture and standards of expectations so that when we got up and running, our first-years really kind of knew the drill right from the get-go and could be integrated pretty easily.”

That integration process was expedited by the leadership of seniors Amanda Tracy and Haley Greene, who led Saint Mary’s on the race course while also serving as mentors for the team’s younger runners.

“Amanda and Haley are exceptional leaders. They've done such an amazing job for our program [with] their leadership and their work ethic and leading by example, but then also just being very relatable and working with [the underclassmen],” Bauters said. “I think [their] leadership in practice really translated to confidence for our younger women.”

It also translated to racing success. At the MIAA Championships, freshmen Savannah Paulson, Cecilia Conrad and Jordan Siminski all placed within the top 40 to help propel Saint Mary’s to a fifth-place finish. Two weeks later, the members of that trio all set personal bests and were among the Belles’ five scoring runners at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional.

“They showed up [in the postseason],” Bauters said about the freshmen. “But a lot of what we talk about is having fun and [that] you won’t know if you don’t try, so just go big … I think just a slow compilation [of improvement through] the season helped it come together when it mattered.”

Tracy and Greene were out in front for the Belles during both postseason races, and Tracy’s 14th-place finish at the MIAA Championships earned her Second Team All-MIAA honors and gave her the sixth-fastest 6k time in program history.

“Amanda is probably one of the most coachable athletes I've ever had. You ask her to do something, and she's going to do it,” Bauters said about Tracy. “She had a lot of mental barriers for her first couple of seasons, and I think being able to finally break through some of those obstacles that we've been working on for a while — just everything kind of came together, and she's very much earned all of this success.”

Saint Mary’s concluded its season in November by placing 16th at the Great Lakes Regional, the team’s best result at the regional meet since 2015. While Tracy and Greene will graduate, the impressive performance of the Belles’ underclassmen and the growth that the team exhibited throughout the fall provide a bright outlook for the future of the program.

“This was probably one of my favorite seasons coaching at Saint Mary's,” Bauters said. “This team was just such a unit from day one. And I think when you have a really good time, it leads to success, so I think a lot of it is just [that] they have built each other up so much all year and kind of wanted to leave it all out there.”