From left: Annette Sanchez, Jozelyn Macias, Olivia Mergenthaler, Grace Maletich, Salma Rodriguez and Lorena Garcia
From left: Annette Sanchez, Jozelyn Macias, Olivia Mergenthaler, Grace Maletich, Salma Rodriguez and Lorena Garcia
Women's Cross Country - Wed, Sep. 21, 2016

Story by Corey Stolzenbach, volunteer assistant for SXU Sports Information

New faces help comprise of Saint Xavier University's 2016 women's cross country squad. The Cougars bring in a lot of depth and could finish with their highest place ever at the NAIA National Championships in November, according to head coach Lisa Ebel. Ebel is very optimistic about what her freshmen bring to the table.

"I am so excited to have the opportunity to coach our six freshmen," Ebel said. "Each one of them has much to offer our team. I'm looking forward to watching them develop as runners and students."
 
It didn't take long for freshman Grace Maletich to make an impact for Saint Xavier's Women's Cross Country squad. In her first-ever college race, Maletich finished in 16th place out of 97 individual runners at the Sept. 2 University of St. Francis (Ill.) Twilight Invite at Channahon Community Park in Channahon, Ill. It was good enough for her to crack fourth among SXU runners. She ran a 19:14.6 at the 5K event, which consisted of 14 schools. Maletich helped the Cougars to second place of the entire meet, and first among CCAC teams.
 
"Training has been great," Maletich said. "It's really nice to have a lot of girls who are around the same pace and better than me…The race was super fun. The course is great and it was just really great to run with everyone for the first time."
 
While Maletich was the only freshman to crack SXU's top seven at the St. Francis meet, she is not the only freshman who has accomplished feats as a runner. Annette Sanchez and Salma Rodriguez both come to SXU from Morton West High School. Sanchez holds her school's record for the 2 Mile race, while Rodriguez cracked Morton West's top five in a few races in 2015. Sanchez is very excited to reunite with her old high school teammate in college.
 
"I'm really excited to be with her for another four years," Sanchez said of Rodriguez. "We met sophomore year…in class and because of track and we got really close."
 
For Rodriguez, the feeling is mutual.
 
"I love Annette," Rodriguez said. "She's a really good friend. We come from a team that was always super close. Me and Annette were super close because we had class together and the same lunch, so it's a good relationship."
 
Ebel said Rodriguez can set high standards for herself. Rodriguez elaborated on just what those standards were.              
 
"A lot of the high standards I have for myself is just to be mentally prepared for every single run because I feel like every run could be challenging physically but I feel it's way harder to stay positive mentally because you're going so fast for so long," she said. "So I feel like if I give up on myself mentally, that kind of just like ruins the rest of my run and that's when I get hard on myself."  
 
Lincoln-Way North alumna Olivia Mergenthaler tried her hand at other sports, too. She spent eight years playing travel softball and also was a volleyball player in high school. Cross country was more of something that she fell in to. A couple of years ago, Mergenthaler wasn't expecting to be where she's at, but now is very glad she is.
 
"I was going to be on varsity my junior year for volleyball but I didn't think I was going to play that much so I was like, 'Oh, I'll just try to get in shape,' and so I joined cross country," she said. "My junior year went okay…and then my senior year I didn't really, I didn't think I would even run cross country until like October of my senior year and my senior year season went like really well. So, I quit softball that Fall and I decided to pursue cross country."
 
For Mergenthaler, quitting other sports to focus on running was not an easy decision.
 
"It was very hard, but I think it really made me mentally tough," she said. "I just love always feeling accomplished after running."
 
If Lorena Garcia's tenure at Eisenhower High School is any indicator, she'll be an asset for SXU for years to come. As a senior there, she helped her team win the South Suburban Conference Red Division for the second straight year. In addition to that, she was an All-SSC selection. Regarding her success at the prep level, she offered an explanation.
 
"I think a lot had to do with the pressure the coach kind of put on me," Garcia said. "I was set kind of to lead them, and it's not a role that I would really enjoy taking, but I took it upon myself, and there's a difference between bossing someone and leading someone and I think everything has to be done by example and I think that's what I kind of set in that school."
 
Garcia said there is always room for a little more push and always room to break one's own standards. The rest of the team can help her along the way.
 
"I think if we're all pushing towards a similar goal, we can all reach it," she said. As for Jozelyn Macias, she placed ninth among SXU runners. In her inaugural meet, she clocked in at 20:31.6 to come in ninth on her team. There are a couple of veteran runners whom she said has helped her so far to get accustomed to things on the team.
 
"I would say Courtney [Correa] and DeDe [Deandra Stokes]," she said. "In the Summer, I'd be running with them a lot…and then I always remind myself, 'If they can do it, I can do it.'"
 
The general consensus among the freshmen was that they were nervous before their first collegiate race. After all, it's not the same as high school as the environment and team was different. However, once they crossed the finish line, they felt accomplished and now greatly anticipate future races as they're aware of their capabilities. 
 
"It was really nice because everyone was so supportive and everyone was there for each other and I kept calm throughout the whole thing because everyone just made it fun," Rodriguez said.
 
The ladies said that they are getting more used to things at the college level. They really enjoy their older teammates and forming relationships with them and communicating with one another. For them, it's getting easier with a supportive team and how accommodating Ebel is in talking to them individually.
 
In regards to what this freshmen class will provide down the line, Ebel has confidence in them going forward.
 
"The best part of coaching is discovering what kind of impact each person has on our team," she said. "This freshmen class makes me very optimistic for our future."