Women on the Move
Keep an eye on the young and energetic women's cross country team, led by veteran coach Bill Ware.
“We have a really young team,” says Lindsey Nadolski, “and we still managed to do well this past season, so I think the next few seasons will be even better.”
Her team is certainly building on a fine Ithaca College tradition. Just three years after women’s cross country became a varsity sport at Ithaca, the athletics program established itself as one of the best in Division III. From 1984 to 1992 the team made nine straight trips to the NCAA championships (with a runner-up finish in 1986 highlighting Ithaca’s seven top-10 performances) and crowned 15 all-Americans.
Fast forward to 2005, when the program once again took a place among the nation’s elite. The team took eighth place at the nationals (its 10th top-10 finish), where Ithaca has competed in each of the past six years.
Ithaca sent seven athletes to the NCAA meet this year: four freshmen, two juniors, and just one senior. Top finisher Rachel Blasiak, a junior, placed 37th to cap a season that saw her win the Empire 8 individual title and earn first-team all-state, all-conference, and all-region honors.
Leading the team’s newcomers was Nadolski, a freshman. The Empire 8 rookie of the year, she was Ithaca’s first or second finisher in all but one race she entered. Nadolski and fellow freshmen Kasey Currier, Genevieve Pfeiffer, and twin sisters Elizabeth and Jessica Wilcox (who finished within a second of each other at every meet) all earned all-conference recognition during their first collegiate season.
As with all strong sport programs at Ithaca, the women’s cross country team’s success starts with the coaching staff. Bill Ware is in his 19th year as the team’s head coach (he started coaching at Ithaca in 1967 and has coached five other sports as well); he was the first to lead the program, staying until 1991, then came out of retirement in 1998 to oversee Ithaca’s latest run of successes. He and second-year assistant coach Jennifer Potter ’92, the head women’s track and field coach, collaborate to recruit strong student-athletes.
“Coach Ware and I work together to recruit distance runners, and the prospects hear different yet similar philosophies that reflect a ‘family’ atmosphere,” Potter explains. “We are attracting student-athletes who have been very successful in high school and who choose Division III level over Division I for strong academic programs, the opportunity to be involved in other activities on campus, and less pressure. We don’t put a lot of expectations on the team—just [to] develop and have fun. The athletes enjoy the atmosphere, and that contributes to their success.”
That success has included strong performances at the regional, state, and conference levels, in addition to Ithaca’s run at nationals. Since 2000 the Bombers have won three state titles and one regional crown while finishing first or second at 11 of the 12 state and regional championship meets. Within the Empire 8 the team has been even more dominant: in the three seasons since the conference instituted women’s cross country as a conference sport, Ithaca has won all three titles and earned 28 of the 42 spots on the league’s all-star team (twice as many as the combined total for the other five schools that have women’s cross country teams). Ware has earned all three coach of the year awards that the conference has given.
The women give their head coach credit for helping them become so competitive. “He has definitely helped me enjoy racing a little more,” says Nadolski. “I’ve become more confident and relaxed.” It can’t be hard for the coach to recognize when he’s doing something right; besides his Empire 8 honors, his teams have been winners since the program was in its infancy.
Indeed, laughs Nadolski: “Wally [as he is affectionately known to generations of athletes at IC] has been using the same methods for years, and they seem to be working.”