Women’s cross country searching for new identity

The women’s cross country team will use a team-oriented strategy to try to replace top runner Blanca Fernandez.

In every race last season, there was no question who would be the top Owl.

If she was competing, it was going to be Blanca Fernandez. The Spanish runner became the first Temple athlete to run in the NCAA Division I Women’s Cross Country Championships in 2015, placing 29th overall.

After losing its top runner to graduation, the team is trying to find a new identity in 2016.

“Any one of the runners on the women’s team have the potential to become the top runner this season,” coach James Snyder said. “I’m eager to see which one will step up to the plate.”

“Even though Blanca Fernandez has finished her career here at Temple, our runners can learn from her and continue to push forward and achieve great things this season,” Snyder added.

Snyder, who is starting his fourth year at Temple, said his expectations for the women’s team this season include being ready to work collectively and complete their tasks with diligence.

“Our team races as a pack, and they need to be focused and push each other daily,” Snyder said. “To be a great team, it needs to be made out of teamwork.”

Junior Katie Pinson is ready to be one of the Owls’ top runners this year.

Pinson ended the cross country season with a 25th place finish at the American Athletic Conference Women’s Cross Country Championships.

In the spring, she set a new school record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at The American Outdoor Championships, with a time of 10:50.73. She also finished 13th in the mile at The American Indoor Championships, with a time of 5:03.55.

“Each year we’ve a taken a big step forward in our program and I’m excited for what that next step is going be this year,” Pinson said. “As a team, our primary goal is to move up in the conference rankings and to become closer with each other so that collectively, we are more confident on the course.”

The team welcomes three freshmen this season: Millie Howard, Caitlin O’Brien and Grace Moore.

In Saturday’s Duquesne Duals race, Moore placed second out of 81 runners with a time of 18:11.6. O’Brien finished in the top half of the field in 33rd place.

Howard, who is from the United Kingdom, has personal best times of 2:07.55 in the 800 meter and 4:28.89 in the 1500. O’Brien, who lives in New Jersey, has personal best times of  5:12 in the mile and 11:00 in the two-mile.

Graduate transfer Emily Nist also joins the team after running at Syracuse University from 2012-14.

“I’m excited for the unknown,” Snyder said. “With our runners, I am counting on them to find that mindset to be high-level athletes, to step up and get the work done.”

Sophomore Katie Leisher made her debut last season, setting her own personal records.

She ran a time of 4:42.92 in the 1,500 at The American Outdoor Track & Field championships and she set another record in the 3,000 with 10:07.21 at the Princeton Outdoor.

Leisher finished fourth at the Duquesne Duals this weekend, completing the 5K race with a time of 18:32.3 to help the team finish in third place in a field of seven schools.

“I’m really excited to learn from my freshman year, and with the help from coach Snyder and the staff, I am able to overcome challenges I may face along the way,” Leisher said. “We as a team want to learn from our previous runner, Blanca Fernandez, and continue to represent Temple the best we can.”

Drui Caldwell can be reached at drui.caldwell@temple.edu.

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