Duo gives strong performance

The Falcons were carried to their highest finish in school history on the shoulders of sophomore Jessica Pixler and junior Suzie Strickler.

Pixler’s stellar finish in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Championship race capped off an amazing season.

Strickler overcame injury and illness to help SPU to a second-place score as well.

After her win at the national championships, Pixler was named the 2007 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division II Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year–a hefty title for such a humble athlete.

Now that she has achieved the highest honor a Division II athlete can reach, Pixler has even grander aspirations in mind.

"My biggest goal is to make the Olympic trials," she said. "I’m going to use this as a stepping stone to accomplishing that."

Head coach Doris Heritage said that, right now, Pixler is not far off from the B standard, or 33:00 for 10,000 meters.

"I think it’s a very realistic goal," Heritage said. "She has talent and is willing to focus in on her goal."

Pixler did it with the cross country team, setting herself the aspiration of winning the national championships during her first year. Now she has accomplished that and can look ahead to bigger things.

She goes into the trials, which will happen this coming summer for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, "not the underdog anymore," she said.

Despite her success, Pixler is "the epitome of a team player," according to sophomore Kate Harline.

Pixler’s speed is high enough that she has to do her workouts by herself or even with members of the men’s team.

"She’ll say that she doesn’t feel like she’s better," Harline said. "She is so not full of herself."

"I have a lot of respect for that kid," Heritage added. "She’s somebody that we’re all able to enjoy watching enjoy her sport."

It was Pixler who initiated the team prayer meeting and who "thinks of fun activities to do" as a team, Harline said.

And, while being interviewed after the Nov. 17 race, Pixler was the picture of humility.

When told that she had an amazing performance, Harline said. Pixler just said, "I guess I did."

Last year, Pixler played for the women’s soccer team as well as ran for cross country.

This year, however, she chose to focus only on running.

"I miss soccer, and I’m excited about their success [this season]," Pixler said. "But I did make the right choice. There would have been too many conflicts of interest."

Speaking of conflicts, Strickler had quite a few of her own on her way to the national championships.

On Nov. 7, Strickler injured her hamstring and was told to rest and ice it.

At the beginning of the week leading up to nationals, she tried to run on it. It still hurt, but the team trainer said that it was up to her whether or not she would compete.

On Nov. 13, she got sick with a lingering sinus infection.

Strickler said that, the morning of Nov. 17, she and Heritage went to the doctor to clear the strained hamstring.

"We didn’t know about Suzie [Strickler] until the last few minutes, when the doctor said it was OK," Heritage said.

"I wasn’t sure, going in [to the trip], if I could run," Strickler said. "It was difficult."

But everyone was praying–from the team and the coaches to the parents, family and roommates back home.

"On Friday night [Nov. 16], I had this reassurance, this sense of peace, that, yes, I was going to run," Strickler said. "I knew somehow that the next day I would be fine."

In the morning, her hamstring didn’t hurt at all and, though the race winded her a bit, it went smoothly–as evidenced by her 47th place finish, third for the Falcons.

"I felt wrapped up in prayer during the whole race," she said. "It was an amazing experience."

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Title: Duo gives strong performance | Author: August Williams | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2007-11-28 | Internal ID: 6160