Family weekend on the course – Croup’s Corner


Photo by Robert Berger

The women's cross country team ran in the CMU Invitational on October 8 where they placed fifth of 14 teams.

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist

We all have our own definition of family.

For some, the word family doesn’t extend beyond blood relatives. They’re the ones that raised us, nurtured us and taught us everything we know. They’ve been there through all of our ups and downs and supported us during all of our struggles.

Ask anyone who has played a sport at some point during their life and they will give you another definition of family: their teammates.

Point Park hosted Family Weekend this past weekend, the annual excuse for parents and relatives to visit campus and replenish our snack stash.

Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams competed at the Carnegie Mellon Invitational Saturday as part of family weekend. It was a muddy and sloppy race that was the second-to-last of the regular season before both teams try and defend their conference championships on Nov. 5.

Cross country is very much a team sport, even though it’s largely based on the individual. Running is just as tough on the mind as it is on the body. A little support from teammates, who double as the athletes’ second family members, only helps in the end.

“Out there on the course, we’re just helping each other along through different parts of the course,” Chris Hunt said after Saturday’s race. “Sean [Hilverding] is really good at going up the hills and I’m really good at going down the hills, so we will inspire each other like that. We’re becoming real close as a team and it’s a lot of fun.”

Hilverding led the team with his 25th place overall finish Saturday out of 86 runners. Hunt was second for Point Park in 30th place. The Point Park men also had finishers in 33rd, 36th and 38th place, with six more runners finishing within eight spots of each other from 46th-53rd place.

Look at any photo from the CMU meet, or any meet for that matter, and you’re likely to find the athletes clumped together running as a team, which Hilverding says was the goal Saturday.

“Everybody’s having fun and enjoying what we’re doing,” Hilverding said. “Today we just kind of wanted to run as a team and enjoy the course and just go out there and just have some fun.”

Cross country is more than just an individual sport. These runners spend so much time with each other on and off the course and form that important team bond that is essential to success in any sport.

Just as a supportive family is vital to our successes, supportive teammates are crucial to the success of athletes.

Head Coach Kelly Parsley said remaining focused together as a team is the most important factor moving forward so both teams can defend their titles.

“We are the defending conference champs,” Parsley said. “Taking pride of that and making sure that we keep that as our common goal and keep working hard together as a team. It’s going to be a team effort if we’re going to have a chance of repeating as conference champs.”

Katie Guarnaccia has been a staple of the women’s team since her freshman year. She notched a fifth place overall finish Saturday to unsurprisingly lead the women. She hasn’t raced much this season due to class commitments.

She always jumps out to a fast start and did just the same Saturday, leading the pack down the first stretch of the course.

She didn’t run the best race of her career. She finished the 5K race in 19:19.1 after finishing the 2015 CMU Invitational 20 seconds faster. Still, having Guarnaccia on the course is a major win for Point Park any day of the week.

“It’s great to have Katie back,” Parsley said. “I know she wasn’t happy with her time. I definitely think the mud slowed the course down a little bit. She’s been training with us every day, so she’s in great shape. It’s just great having her back. We’re looking forward to bigger things.”

Guarnaccia talked about the team as a whole and, as a leader, how she has enjoyed watching the improvements of her teammates throughout the season.

“The team as a whole is so exciting,” Guarnaccia said. “At this point, we have so many of our girls finishing near each other, which is really great. It shows that each of us are advancing our athletic ability. It’s just so exciting to see everyone finishing around the same times.”

McKenzie Wilson finished 31st overall out of the 111 runners and third for the Pioneers. When asked how the race went, she briefly discussed the muddy course before turning straight to how the team competed.

“It was a really good race for the conditions,” Wilson said. “I think everyone did really good, everyone stayed really strong. We have a really good team dynamic, which I’m proud of. So I think we’re really going to come together for conferences.”

That River States Conference Championship meet is Nov. 3 in Beckley W.Va. Point Park’s performances at the meet last year earned its teams conference championships and tickets to the NAIA National Championship meet.

It wasn’t easy last year and it won’t be easy again this year. The squads can only do so much as individuals, and they have to lean on each other as teammates to support each other through their struggles in the coming weeks.

Kind of like a family, eh?

Hunt said Point Park isn’t the favorite, despite its title as defending conference champions. Repeating as conference champions comes down to fate and, you guessed it, teamwork.

“To be honest, this is Rio Grande’s year,” Hunt said. “They have several seniors. I will say they’re probably favored, but you know anything can happen.”

“When it comes to race day, anything can happen. We have a lot of depth. If we can stick together and we can put some guys in front of their fifth guy, then it could become real close. It’ll all come down to race day.”