October 12, 2003

Sister Act

Oct. 12, 2003

By Jason Dung
The Santa Clara

I guess you could say it runs in the family.

Robin and Shannon Bell may have had slightly different aspirations while growing up, as many siblings do, but the sisters from Spokane, Wash., have teamed up to help lead the Santa Clara women's cross country team to a monumental season thus far in 2003.

Robin, a junior and this year's team captain, has been making headlines for Santa Clara since her freshman season, when she was named first-team all-conference and West Coast Conference Freshman of the Year. That same year, the women's cross country team won its first-ever conference championship in Santa Clara history. Robin's younger sister, Shannon, is currently the Broncos' No. 1 runner and one of the leading candidates to win Freshman of the Year this season.

"They are both so focused and dedicated," said Head Coach Tom Service. "Robin had a breakout freshman season for us a couple of years ago, and Shannon has an outstanding shot to win the Freshman of the Year award this season. I see so many similarities between them."

But these sisters have traveled slightly different paths before they became teammates on the Santa Clara cross country team.

As a senior at Gonzaga Prep High School, Robin was an all-league runner on the cross country team as well as class valedictorian. Shannon, who was the class valedictorian herself two years later, decided instead to play volleyball over cross country during her first three years at Gonzaga Prep High School.

"Throughout my first few years in high school, I never really liked running," explained the younger sibling. "Running 3.1 miles used to sound like torture to me, but during my junior year in high school I started running recreationally as a stress relief and I really started to like it."

Robin, who has been running in organized competitions since grade school, recognized her younger sister's potential while they were both still in high school.

"[Shannon] was always into volleyball growing up," said Robin. "But I always thought she would be really good at running."

Shannon decided to give up volleyball and try out cross country for her senior season, but the Bell sisters never competed in cross country together until Shannon joined Robin and the Santa Clara team this fall.

"I think that Robin always wanted me to run cross country in high school," said Shannon. "When she came to Santa Clara and did so well, it was really inspirational. She was my inspiration when I decided to give cross country a try my senior year in high school. I never really considered running in college until fall of my senior year, because I didn't know if I'd be good enough."

It didn't take long for Shannon to make an impression during her senior season at Gonzaga Prep High School. Despite no prior cross country experience, Shannon caught the attention of many collegiate programs, as she claimed all-league honors and finished second in the 4A Washington State cross country meet.

While the letters from various colleges piled up, Shannon became increasingly interested in what her older sister was accomplishing at the Mission Campus.

"Originally, I didn't want to come to Santa Clara and follow in [Robin's] footsteps," explained Shannon. "But then I found out more about the program from her. Robin has been such a building block for the program, and I really liked the idea of getting to run with her."

Robin admits to a little persuasion on her part.

"I think I probably influenced her to come here," said the junior. "I thought it would be awesome for us to be here on the same team. I think our parents [Santa Clara alumni David and Annie Bell] love it too. They get to come to twice as many meets now, and they have a good excuse to come down here and see us."

Shannon's arrival at Santa Clara this season marked the first time that the two sisters have had the opportunity to compete together.

The transition from "just sisters" to "sibling teammates" was a new experience for the Bell sisters that took a small amount of getting used to.

"It's been really fun, but it took a little bit of adjusting for me," explained Robin. "It took some time to realize that my sister was about to become one of my teammates. We never competed together in high school because Shan was always playing volleyball. Even when we both did track together in high school, I ran long distance and she ran short distance."

For Shannon, the opportunity to practice and compete with her older sister has been bonding experience.

"It's been so awesome to be on the same team as Robin," said Shannon. "Practices have been so much fun. I love going on long runs and getting the chance to talk to her. We've really been able to catch up on what we've been doing. I think that we've become much more closer now that we're teammates.

"Plus she's great for support," added Shannon. "When I'm not running my best she'll say 'Come on Shannon you can do it, you're strong. Come up here and run with me.'"

Added teammate freshman Lauren Swigart, "They seem to be really close friends. They have their share of inside jokes, but they don't bicker like you'd expect siblings to do. They have a good relationship and they definitely share the same dedication to cross country and the team."

That dedication and hard work is one of the reasons for this year's squad's monumental beginning to the season.

"Robin has always been so key for us," said senior Milena Basile. "And Shannon is turning out to be no different. It is so fun to run with them, and we all are able to draw from their strength."

Shannon, who has been the Broncos' top runner, and Robin, who has consistently been one of the top three runners on the squad, have paced the Broncos to great finishes in each of their competitions this season.

At the Stanford Invitational, Shannon and Robin finished 19th and 40th overall, respectively, against some of the nation's fiercest competition. They helped propel the Broncos to a monumental sixth-place finish in the prestigious event.

"The program is just going sky high right now," exclaimed Service.

The two sisters helped lead Santa Clara to a fifth-place finish out of 19 in the field of competition last weekend at the Willamette Invitational in Salem, Ore. Shannon delivered a personal best performance in the 5000-meter event with a time of 17:35.11. The sub-18 minute time was good enough for a 13th place individual finish.

"She's getting close to times that will break school records," added Service. "Plus it seems like she has been improving in each meet."

Robin shaved a couple of seconds off of her time from last year's Willamette Invitational and finished 42nd overall in this year's meet.

Last weekend's 5000-meter race featured many formidable opponents, including the University of Portland, last year's conference champions.

The Pilots narrowly defeated the Broncos in the team competition with a third-place team finish.

"A number of us had awesome races at the Willamette Invitational," said Swigart. "But some people thought they could have performed better. It was good to see what Portland brought to the table, and we're all really excited to compete against them again in the WCC Championships."

The Pilots from Portland, Ore., have been the Broncos' toughest in-conference competition over the past few seasons.

The Bell sisters and the rest of the team have made it their goal to defeat Portland in their next encounter at the WCC Championships at Crystal Springs in Belmont on Nov. 1.

"We were a little bit disappointed that we lost to Portland," said Robin. "But it will make us work harder to prepare for them in conference. We're definitely shooting for the top at the WCC Championships."

Shannon agrees with her older sister.

"Our biggest goal is to beat Portland and win the West Coast Conference title," said the freshman Bell, referring to the upcoming conference championship on Nov. 1. "I think we can get them, because we have the heart. We'll put our all into that race."

With the combination of Robin's leadership and experience and Shannon's amazing potential, the Bell sisters hope to deliver a 1-2 punch to the rest of the conference and guide the Broncos to the WCC title.