Cross Country Has Two Runners Honored Nationally; Wilson Third Straight Runner to Win Santa Clara's St. Clare Medal

Cross Country Has Two Runners Honored Nationally; Wilson Third Straight Runner to Win Santa Clara's St. Clare Medal

by Dianna White

Santa Clara University's cross-country track and team continues to be known as one of the highest academically-performing athletic programs with two recently honored nationally. On Thursday, senior Stephanie Wilson was named Capital One All-American First-Team All-District. Wilson is also receiving the Saint Clare Medal at Santa Clara's graduation on June 11, which is given "to the female graduate judged outstanding in academic performance, personal character, school activities, and constructive contribution to the University by the faculty and the provost."

Wilson is the third straight cross-country runner to receive this award, following 2009 Rhodes Scholar Noelle Lopez and Anne Murphy-Hagan in 2010.

Sophomore Kevin Oliver was named Capital One All-American Second-Team All-District. Wilson and Oliver are the only two WCC athletes to receive this honor this year.

Even during recruiting, one of first-year head coach Felipe Montoro's main criteria is academic success. "Once the students arrive, the culture of academic excellence is in place and they feel an obligation to continue that reputation and tradition," said Montoro.

Wilson, a two-time recipient of the Capital One All-American All-District award, gave insight to how her academic career at Santa Clara has impacted her success on the cross-country team. "I've had very successful academic and athletic careers at Santa Clara, and in a lot of ways my experiences in the classroom have helped me gain success on the cross country course, and visa-versa," she said. "My professors always provided opportunities for me to challenge myself intellectually, and the confidence I gained from completing these projects translated to confidence in my running career. Training also helps me stay focused and energized. Our training routine can be a very grounding practice amidst the hectic pace of the quarter where there's always some event popping up and an assignment due. I also got to discuss some of my ideas for classes and papers with my teammates while we went on our runs. I've had some of the most philosophical conversations while doing long runs. I think physical activity stimulates creativity and curiosity. It forces you to be more aware of your body and your surroundings."

"There have been many studies done that show the value of exercise and how it increases cognitive awareness and retention," added Montoro. "It has even been shown to delay the onset and progression of diseases like Alzheimer's. Physical activity is in our DNA, we all should do it."

Proud of Wilson's accomplishments in cross-country, which included winning the 2009 WCC title and running to All-American honors after her 28th place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships her junior year, Montoro is very pleased with his athletes. "Kevin and Stephanie's achievement are very impressive," Montoro said. "They are following in a long line of outstanding student-athletes that have come through the cross country program.  Stephanie had so many first for Santa Clara as a runner and her academic resume is as impressive."

Wilson will graduate Summa Cum Laude on with a degree in English and an overall GPA of 3.9. She is the recipient of the English Department's Lievestro Prize, an essay contest for graduating senior English majors. "I submitted a portfolio of three essays," Wilson said. "It was judged by faculty members from the English Department."

These exceptional honors give Wilson the freedom to pursue many career options. After graduation, Wilson has a lot of different ideas for her future but is not entirely sure of what path to follow. "I've decided to stay in San Jose for the next year and explore some different career paths-- nature writing, environmental education and coaching," Wilson said. "My friend had a dream that I would write a book and make a million dollars, so maybe that's in the cards too."

The strong academic program at the Mission Campus is a large reason why Oliver decided to pursue a degree in Economics at Santa Clara. "Academics were always my primary concern, I wasn't even sure I was going to run in college until Felipe (Montoro) convinced me," Oliver said. He is a member of the Honors College and was his high school's valedictorian. "Coming into an environment with small classes and great professors while getting the opportunity to be a part of a quickly improving team has been an amazing experience, and is a big part of my personal success."

Oliver has scored a 4.0 GPA for four out of five quarters at Santa Clara prior to Spring 2011, and has a 3.95 in Economics. When asked how he has been able to maintain such stellar success in the classroom, Oliver explains how he sets goals. "I usually stay focused on the short-term when setting my goals: one quarter at a time for school and one season at a time for cross country and track. My long-term plan academically is to go to an elite law school, so I'm just trying to rack up as many A's as possible every quarter. I'm probably going to add a second major and just keep working on managing my time."

The Santa Clara cross country team takes a lot of pride in academic performance, setting a goal before each season to achieve the top team GPA out of all the athletic teams. Every year both the men's and women's teams make it one of their main objectives for the season to achieve the highest team GPA in the athletic department. "They are a competitive group and enjoy the challenge," said Coach Montoro. "Most of the distance runners on our teams are very high achievers and have personal academic standards that they have set for themselves that are very challenging, so a high team GPA is also a product of the type of person on the teams."

The men and women's cross country teams achieved their goal by having the highest GPA for the winter quarter, at 3.3 and 3.4, respectively. This is the second quarter in a row that the cross-country team had been recognized for this achievement. Both teams also have the highest cumulative GPA, the men weighing in at 3.295 and the women at 3.334.

"We're all a little bit irritated that the women's team has been beating us lately," Oliver admitted.

These successes have been made possible by Montoro understanding the importance of valuable study hours. "We try and be as flexible as possible in regards to scheduling practice and competitions if an athlete feels they need some extra time to study," said Montoro.