CWRU 2020 Cross Country Senior Feature

Mosaic of 2020 Cross Country Seniors

Throughout the week, Case Western Reserve University will be recognizing the seniors on its fall sports teams. While some of their athletic careers may be continuing, we wanted to take some time to show our appreciation for their efforts during the time of the year that would traditionally mark the end of their time as collegiate athletes.

Every day this week, athletics.case.edu will be featuring a virtual senior day ceremony and a short article on each team's senior class. Today's team is men's and women's cross country.

The five senior members of the men's cross country team and six on the women's had done an excellent job extending the legacy of a Case Western Reserve University program that had sent at least one member of the team to the NCAA Division III National Championships each of the previous 17 years.

In 2020, the men's team was looking to qualify for the NCAA Division III National Championships for the third-straight year, aiming to become the first group in the program to do so since the mid-1970's. Meanwhile, the women's squad was looking to cement a legacy in its own right, and was slated to return six of their seven competitors from its regional team last year. And, while the senior class might not have a chance to take part in those potential successes this season, their impact on the team will be felt for years to come.

"I believe the overall message that is impactful from the senior class is that most anything is possible to achieve with hard work, attention to detail and dedication to the program," said CWRU Head Cross Country Coach Kathy Lanese of the men's senior class, consisting of Daniel Grasing, Andrew Green, Michael Klein, Thomas Patton and Eric Rachita. "Improvement and achieving excellence is a process.  I commend every senior leading the younger generation and modeling that process through the past four years."

The women's senior class of Olivia Battistoni, Elise Epstein, Cara Giannuzzi, Grace Kemerer, Kiera Olson and Madison Vargo left a similar impression on Coach Lanese and the rest of the team.

2020 CWRU Cross Country Virtual Senior Day Ceremony

"I am incredibly proud of the senior women," said Lanese. "They have always set an excellent example and persisted through the ups and downs of their careers. They have been the leaders and teachers of the program and the younger athletes have looked up to them for guidance.  They will leave an imprint that will lead to success for the rookies and the classes to follow."

In addition to the influence the senior class had on the program, it was also clear that the close-knit community of the cross country team helped shape the collegiate experiences of the seniors on the team.

"What I love about this class is that even if they were not in the limelight late in the season, they developed into a strong force of committed individuals with relentless support to uplift and sustain a connection," said Lanese.

"One of my favorite memories of cross country is putting on our Spartan tattoos before every meet," said Battistoni. "It was a little tradition we had that really symbolized the unity and togetherness of our team. Most people think of cross country as an individual sport, but I don't think I could have accomplished any of the things I did without the team."

"The biggest thing that made my experience on the team so positive is the sense of community on the team," said Klein. "Every year, when everyone first shows up for preseason, we have a team meeting, and during that meeting, Coach Lanese always says that this team is like a family. And as a freshman, you kind of roll your eyes at that. But, as you spend more time on the team, you realize that it's true."

The team's culture of community is something that was cultivated from the very first days that each member of the senior class stepped on campus.

"I think the fall sports have an advantage in building that sort of team comradery because we move to campus early and immediately make friends with our teammates during the week or two before classes start," said Green. "Which, at least for me, created a sense of familiarity during a time when there were so many new things going on. As a result of the welcoming atmosphere that I encountered in my first days on campus, the cross country team has been at the central part of my life at CWRU."

"Everyone treated me like part of the team as soon I stepped on campus, and gave me a built-in group of friends to start freshman year," said Vargo. "I always looked up to the older members, and now getting to show younger members how friendly, goofy, and supportive our team is and that we want them to be a part of it has been really great."

Vargo went on to say that many of her favorite memories come from the team's annual preseason camp.

"Running together, playing ultimate frisbee, lots of volleyball at the beach, and campfire stories," said Vargo. "It's one of the most fun things we do all season, and it's always a good time catching up with teammates after the summer and meeting the freshman."

Meanwhile, both Klein and Green spoke about the team's 2018 NCAA Division III Championship appearance as one of the most memorable moments during their time with the Spartans.

"I remember we met in the Hall of Fame room at Veale to see if we got selected," said Klein. "Once we found out that we had, we had a team-only meeting in the All-American hallway. And as soon as we got there, people just started yelling and cheering and hugging each other. We were just so happy that we had been able to do something so unexpected."

"At the time, everything seemed surreal because just two or three months earlier, no one on the team had any visions of qualifying for the national meet, and I think the fact that we completely shattered all expectations simply by qualifying for Nationals made the meet itself a lot of fun," said Green. "Going into the meet ranked 32nd out of the 32 teams meant we had absolutely no expectations. I think, at least for most of us, that took away a lot of the pressure that can come along with big races like Nationals, and I think that lack of pressure helped lead us to a 21st-place finish."

In addition to the memories of competition successes, the lasting legacy for many of the seniors will be the relationships built during their time on the team.

"The races and running are things I have always loved, but the friends I have grown to know on this team are far more than I could have ever asked for or expected," said Battistoni.