West Windsor, N.J. – The women’s cross country team has continued to grow in strength and size since the sport was added as a collegiate team in 2010. According to Head Coach Erin Cahill-Wetzel, this year marked some major milestones. The Vikings fielded their largest roster, ran their fastest times, and took a full-scoring squad to the NJCAA National Championships.
The growth of the program was evident in the team's performance at the Region 19 Championships, where the Vikings finished just 3 points behind Essex County College, a perennial national powerful. Cahill-Wetzel stresses just how much Mercer has improved and how close the team came to upsetting Essex.
“Three years ago, we finished 30 points behind Essex and last year we lost by 11 points. To narrow the gap to just 3 points this year shows remarkable progress,” she said, reporting that Essex took the top three places, with Mercer taking 4th through 9th (followed by 10th and 11 place finishes for Essex). Diana Taveras finished 4th, Cai-Cai Hahn finished 5th, Hixlayne Cuetia-Rodriguez finished 6th, Rachael Wilson finished 7th and Marissa Scott finished 8th. All five runners earned All-Region honors.
While the Vikings were disappointed they did not come home with the title, they are proud of their second place finish. “We would have loved to have beaten Essex, but there was nothing more we could have done," Cahill-Wetzel said. "Our women stepped up, with many running their career best 5K times. We did exactly what we were supposed to do; we just came up a little short.” She notes that the team missed the contributions of freshman Lindsey Vasquez, who was consistently finishing in the top five for the Vikings before a season-ending injury at the end of September.
While the results of the Region 19 Championship were the team's strongest showing, Cahill-Wetzel was also excited about fielding a full-scoring team at the NJCAA Division I National Championship. “Competing at Nationals is such a great team-building and confidence-building experience for the girls. It showed that we can compete with teams from across the country, ” she said.
Held at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on Nov. 9, the national meet's windy conditions made for a challenging race, according to Cahill-Wetzel. “The golf course was so open. We really felt the wind.” As a result, the women’s times were 30 to 6 0 seconds slower than at regionals. While the Vikings finished towards the back of the pack, they still beat three other teams. Mercer’s fastest time was clocked by Tavernas, followed by Hahn (10 seconds behind Taveras), Cuetia-Rodriguez, Scott, and Karizma Brown in fifth.
Looking at the season as a whole, Cahill-Wetzel credits several runners with standout performances. One was sophomore Diana Taveras. “Diana had an outstanding year and improved so much from her freshman season. When she was on, she was great fun to watch. She would be running fast, but make it look so effortless. She had such good command and sense of where to be in races. She also pushed herself in all of our workouts. I really commend her on how well she did this season.”
Former West Windsor South teammates Cai-Cai Hahn and Hixlayne Cuetia-Rodriguez also were part of Mercer’s top pack. “Hixlayne worked very hard in practice and finished as one of our top three in every meet. Cai-Cai really came on strong at the end of the season,” Cahill-Wetzel said. Two other runners who finished the year strong were freshmen Rachael Wilson and Marissa Scott. (Scott finished well despite battling injuries throughout the season.)
Cahill-Wetzel also credits returning runner Karzima Brown, who showed consistency and leadership throughout the season. “Karizma has been one of our most dependable runners for the past two years. I never had to worry about how she would race. She was a hard worker and helped lead the team at meets and practices.”
Cahill-Wetzel also notes the growth of freshmen Jerlin Fernandez and Rebeckha Sanchez, who are expected to make big contributions next year. “Both girls worked hard every day and continued to improve their times. I think these two runners will achieve even more next season.”
With their 2nd place finish at Regionals, the Vikings will clearly have their sights set on taking the title next season. Cahill-Wetzel believes that if this year’s accomplishments are any indication, that goal may well be possible.