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Christmas trees in Schenley Plaza.
‘Christmas Day at Pitt’ gathers community for free meals, clothes and gifts
By Spencer Levering, Senior Staff Writer • December 8, 2023

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Christmas trees in Schenley Plaza.
‘Christmas Day at Pitt’ gathers community for free meals, clothes and gifts
By Spencer Levering, Senior Staff Writer • December 8, 2023

Feature | Pitt Cross Country finds comradery through running as one

Pitt+Cross+Country+runners+compete+at+a+home+meet+in+Sept.+2019.+
TPN File Photo
Pitt Cross Country runners compete at a home meet in Sept. 2019.

Dedication and family are two core values that the Pitt cross-country team holds dear. As the mileage increases, so do the relationships the team builds. Even though each runner runs their own race, teamwork remains a pillar for the athletes. 

Cross-country is, at heart, an individual sport. Runners focus on their time and their pace alone. But this doesn’t lessen the importance of the bond each runner has with their teammates. Senior Sam Otis echoed the importance of having his fellow runners near him. 

“When you’re racing, knowing that you have a brother next to you, a brother in front and behind you that are going through just as much pain as you,” Otis said. “It helps a lot with performance.”

But support is necessary, not just during races for Pitt’s runners. First-year Camy Kiser enjoys having the support of her teammates in all facets of life. 

“That’s who you spend the most of your time with is your teammates,” Kiser said. “You live with them, you practice with them, you go through hard times together, everything’s together. Having the closeness that we have and doing everything with your best friends is such a good feeling. You always have that support.”

Practice is one area of the runners’ lives where support is key. Running anywhere from 50 miles a week for first-years, to up to 90 miles a week for top runners, is no small feat. Despite the tremendous effort it requires, junior Ellen Baker believes running hard practices as a team is what separates great athletes from the rest. 

“Once you fall in love with the process, that’s when you start to see the results,” Baker said. “Because the gritty part of practice is what produces fast races at the end of the day.”

But the Panthers’ tough practice and focus on teamwork is beginning to pay off. The men’s and women’s teams took ninth and 12th place, respectively, at the ACC Championships last week. This is a one-spot improvement for both teams compared to their results at the race last year. 

Big races, like the ACC Championship, are the team’s way of proving their dedication to improvement. With only four in-season races, practice and preparation become all the more critical. Otis emphasized how vital it is to give everything 100% effort.

“You really need to be on top of training, sleep and everything throughout the season because you only get a few shots at it,” Otis said. “Then before you know it, the postseason is here.”

While the cross-country team trains at 100% like other programs, their practices do differ slightly compared to the other teams. Both the men’s and women’s cross-country teams practice together under one coach, which is a noticeable difference from other sports separated by gender. Baker said this elevates Pitt’s program. 

“It’s an asset,” Baker said about both teams practicing together. “We both want to compete at a high level, and I think we push each other.”

Another aspect of the cross-country team that sets it apart from other programs is its emphasis on mental toughness. Besides physically straining, the sport is also mentally taxing. Otis thinks this makes cross-country different from other sports. 

“Our sport is just as much mental as it is physical, which is very unique,” Otis said. “Especially when you get into those races, you got to be tough-minded, and you have to have confidence and trust in your training.”

For some on the cross-country team, dealing with a physically demanding sport isn’t the only hurdle they face to face. The transition from high school to collegiate competition is jarring for first-year runners — especially when competing at the D1 level. But first-year Panthers faced this challenge head-on. Kiser found that her team made the change more manageable.

“It’s so different lining up against the top teams in the country and being against all these crazy fast girls,” Kiser said. “But it’s been a really cool experience so far. Being around such a great team has helped out so much.”

While the struggles of competing in college cross-country are tough, the Panthers have an experienced head coach to guide them along the way. Pitt cross-country recently welcomed Griff Graves as their new coach before the start of the 2023 season. Graves previously coached Syracuse cross-country to several impressive finishes in his five years with the Orange.

Still, there are some things that even the best head coaches can’t teach. Otis highlighted how the culture aspect is largely uncoachable. 

“You can look up any type of training online,” Otis said. “You can look up what the pros are doing, but something you can’t really look up and teach is culture and how close you can be with your teammates.”

Through tough practices as a team and exciting finishes in big races, the Panthers have developed a strong culture that values teamwork. Fans hope this will elevate the program and lead the Panthers to a brighter future. 

Championship titles go from team to team. Records are broken and replaced. What never leaves an athlete are the relationships forged with their teammates. 

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