Olsen finds niche back home
Nov. 22, 2008
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
SOMER BREEZE - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Courtney Olsen had to leave home to find out home was where she wanted to be.
The Western Washington University junior cross country runner graduated from Squalicum High School in 2005 and moved down to Portland, Ore., to be part of Concordia University's inaugural cross country program.
But Olsen realized Concordia wasn't her match and moved back north to run for the Vikings.
Rather than trying to establish history with a new program, Olsen is making history with an established one, as she and both the women's and men's teams will compete in the NCAA Division II National Championships at Slippery Rock, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 22.
"(Joining an established program) is what makes it much more valuable than what I thought I needed," Olsen said in a phone interview. "You want to be that person that your coaches remember. If a coach has a long history of greatness, you want to prove to them that you can be just as good. It's a long time coming."
This is the first time the Western women's team will compete in the NCAA championships. The women's last appearance at a national meet was as an NAIA member in 1996.
The last time the Vikings sent both teams to nationals in the same year was in 1994.
In her second season with Western, Olsen has been the constant No. 2 runner behind sophomore Sarah Porter. She finished second for the Vikings, and 26th overall, at the West Regional meet on Saturday, Nov. 8, in La Jolla, Calif., to help the women finish fifth and qualify for the championships.
But her success this season didn't come without dedication and training.
"You can be a great athlete, but if you don't do the work you can't be as good as you could be," Western's 22nd year coach Pee Wee Halsell said. "That's what made her successful. It's Courtney getting after it."
After Olsen realized Concordia wasn't the kind of program she wanted to help build, she had to sit out a year with the Vikings because of transfer rules. It was during that year that Olsen realized she was in the right place.
"It was frustrating (sitting out), but I also think it was rewarding and made me really want to run again," Olsen said. "If you step away, you really have to decide if you want to come back to it. The choice was fun."
Last season was Olsen's first season running with the team. While Halsell said she had a good season, this year has been far better.
This is Olsen's first time running in the championships.
"It's kind of surreal," Olsen said. "It's hitting people differently. It's hitting me in a weird way. I feel like it's just another race, not even knowing how important this is yet. And I might not know until after."
Olsen credits her junior season success to the miles she logged in the summer. Since the other top 7 runners aren't from the area, Olsen was running on her own. While she said it became monotonous, she was running 65 miles a week, hitting a peak at 70.
She knew if she worked hard during the offseason, it would pay off for her later. She was right.
"It is the result of the success," Olsen said. "Besides what the coaches hone in on, it's a delayed effect. Everything I did back then is helping now."
Even though Olsen is close to home, she didn't know any of her teammates when she first joined the Vikings. But over time her teammates have become one of two reasons why she continues to enjoy her sport.
"One reason is the feeling after the race, the rewarding feeling of completing something so difficult," she said. "And the familial bond with my teammates."
Olsen said she has never trained as hard as she did this season. She knew she could be better if she put forth the effort, but didn't think she would become part of a championship-bound team.
Now that she has reached the top prize of her sport, Olsen still doesn't believe that she's hit her peak.
"I feel super weak," she said. "I feel like I'm not giving as much as I could be giving. I feel like I have more to give."
And this weekend is her chance. But if she's still not content, she still has one more year.
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