BY Mike Barrett
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. - As the cross country season wears on, both the men's and women's teams at Lake Superior State are preparing for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Tournament this Saturday, Oct. 26.
Running for the women's team in her senior season is Rebecca Lathrop.
A fisheries and wildlife major with a concentration in wildlife, Lathrop was drawn to Lake State for the fisheries and wildlife program as well as for the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level.
"The main reason was that I was interested in the Fisheries and Wildlife program," said Lathrop, on her coming to Lake State. "I wanted to run track in college and I was offered a spot on the team so that gave me another reason to go here, and I thought that going to school in the UP would be a really cool thing to do."
While she was originally only looking to run for the track and field team, Lathrop was convinced by then-head coach Jason Davis to give cross country a try. Due to overlapping seasons in high school, she did not have the opportunity until coming to Lake Superior.
"In high school I was on the swimming and diving team which is during the fall season — the same season as cross country," explained Lathrop, "so I never ran cross country in high school, my first cross country race was actually in college. When I decided to join the track team at Lake State, [coach Davis] offered me a spot on the cross country team and I had always wanted to try it."
At Lake State, each member of the men's and women's cross country teams also competes on the track & field team, for both the indoor and outdoor seasons. While most of those who run cross country will also run distance events for track, the senior from Eaton Rapids is a mid-distance runner.
"I do mid-distance events during track like the 1500 and 800 and the 4x4 [relay]," said Lathrop.
When asked if she had a favourite course that she has run at Lake State, the senior said, without hesitation, that the course at the Bay College Invitational in Escanaba was hers.
This race was at someone's farm," recalled Lathrop, "so we raced through the woods and some corn fields which was just a nice change in scenery because most of the courses that we run at are on golf courses. It was overall just a really fun meet and I always had a really good time on that course."
It was at the Bay College Invite that, as a sophomore, she set a personal record (PR) time of 21:19.7 on the 5,000 meter course. Lathrop topped that a year later, cutting her time down to 20:32.6 at the same event. This season has seen her time drop even more, with a time of 19:44.0 at the Northwood Cross Country Invitational.
On improving her PR times, she said "it feels pretty awesome to take that much time off my PR, it's nice to know that the hours I've spent training are actually paying off."
Before the season, head coach Rob Gallinger suspected Lathrop may top some of her records, complimenting her on the adjustments seen over the past few seasons.
"Becca has grown as an athlete, no doubt, but watching her transform from a mild mannered sophomore to embracing her leadership role as a senior has been amazing from a coach's perspective," said Gallinger. "She's a great role model, leading by example in the classroom, on the track and out in the trails and has earned her spot as a captain of the team for the upcoming year. I know Becca has her sights set on a few personal bests for the upcoming seasons, but her greatest accomplishment may be what she's able to inspire within her teammates."
A multi-sport athlete when she was younger, Lathrop competed in various activities, finding track in the seventh grade.
"I did softball one summer," she said. "I did gymnastics for about 6 years, I was a swimmer and a diver all throughout high school, and I pole-vaulted in 7th through 9th grade."
Having a passion for the outdoors helped Lathrop in deciding on her major.
"I've always loved being outdoors and doing things outdoors," she said, "and ever since I was little, I've always been super interested in animals, so this major just seemed like a perfect fit for me."
In addition to her degree, Lathrop is also obtaining a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
As with all majors, there are aspects that are enjoyable and those that present challenges. In Lathrop's case, she has found the lab sections to her liking because of how they take material presented in lectures and apply it to real world situations.
The senior research project, which is a part of most degree programs at Lake State, has presented some challenges, but Lathrop, with the help of mentor Dr. Ashley Moerke, says she is making good progress.
"I am doing a comparative study of aquatic insect populations in streams whose watersheds are dominated by urbanization or agriculture," she remarked.
Dr. Moerke explained that the project "is helping scientists and managers understand the effects of land development on the health of river ecosystems. She spent a summer in the Grand River watershed where she collected data on macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects), which are often used as indicators of river health. She hopes to use these data to understand where certain types of land development are causing declines in river health in order to guide efforts by managers to protect and restore water quality throughout the watershed."
Following cross country season, Lathrop and the Lakers will have a brief break before the start of indoor track season, which runs until month. The year wraps up with her favourite part: outdoor track.
"I really like outdoor track," remarked Lathrop. "I like being able to be outside, (especially when it's nice out) and I like running the shorter faster races like the 1500 and 800 compared to running the 6k in cross country. I also like the atmosphere of outdoor track just because the whole team is there, unlike cross country, and it's fun to see everyone compete and be able to cheer them on."
Lathrop and the Cross Country teams will compete in the GLIAC Cross Country Championships hosted by Purdue University Northwest this weekend on Saturday, Oct. 26.
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