Welcome to the Cardinal and Gold
It is my pleasure to open the first edition of Cardinal and Gold in The Scene. Many readers will remember Cardinal and Gold as the annual magazine of the Department of Athletics; now, through a wonderful partnership with the Office of Alumni Relations, we are excited to regularly share stories and news about Bearcat athletics and our exceptional student-athletes with more alumni, parents and supporters throughout the world.
We hope you enjoy keeping up with our award-winning student-athletes, dedicated coaches and championship teams.
— David Rigsby ’00, director of athletics
Running in Packs
By Jamie Timbrell ’06
On a cross country course, most runners see nothing but rubber soles and between five to eight kilometers of trail. Willamette runners, however, often find themselves immersed in a sea of cardinal and gold helping carry them across the finish line.
The teams have a long tradition of running races in packs, both literally and figuratively, and results back up the Bearcats’ approach. Willamette won nine consecutive Northwest Conference (NWC) women’s track and field team titles from 2002–10 and the Bearcats have tallied eight NWC women’s cross country team championships since 2000, including seven in a row from 2002–08. The men, impressively, boast matching success over that time.
But it always seemed like the women runners had a unique take on the role of teammates.
In the fall of 2004, two-time All-American Kari Holbert ’05 was having a subpar day at the West Region Cross Country Championships and was contemplating dropping out of the race when teammate Danya Rumore pulled up beside her.
“Danya could easily have taken off and won, but rather than pulling forward it was important for the team for her to stick with me,” Holbert says. “I didn’t drop out and our team qualified for nationals.”
This camaraderie has developed through a succession of mentors in women’s cross country and track and field. Holbert credits former head coach Kelly Sullivan ’79, former assistant coach Melody Fairchild and Bearcat runners Mat Hunnicutt ’01 and Beth (Fitzgerald) Rainford ’99 as being pivotal influences.
Rainford, who put herself in Willamette’s record books by winning the 1999 NCAA 800-meter national championship to go along with four All-America awards, returned as a volunteer coach during Holbert’s sophomore year and left a lasting impression. “She was a great advocate and taught us how to set the bar higher,” Holbert says. “You could see from the look in her eyes how we were doing.”
Holbert said that the key traits in each of her mentors were patience, advocacy, and the gift of time — to never say “I am too busy to do this,” as she puts it.
Natalie Muren ’06, another All-American runner and five-time national championship competitor, transferred to Willamette after spending her freshman year at Grinnell College. She credits the friendships of the women’s cross country team with helping her succeed both athletically and academically at Willamette.
“The whole team worked as a support network, something that was helpful as we were trying to get work done in classes.”
Muren still talks frequently with teammate Katie Pierce ’05 and two-time NCAA national cross country champion Sarah Zerzan ’08. She and Zerzan first got to know each other while both were injured and relegated to aqua-jogging in the pool together.
“We were both coming to terms with the fact that we were injured in the middle of the track season,” Muren says, “and we helped each other get through that time of wanting to run races we couldn’t.”
The two runners continue a weekly walking tradition, except that “the walk” now happens over the phone while Muren and Zerzan head out on foot wherever they are. “If I have a problem I can go to Natalie,” Zerzan says. “To this day she’ll always know what to say.”
Maddie Coffman ’09 was a three-time All-American and graduated a year after Zerzan. The two runners created the best one-two combination in the country during the 2007 cross country season.
“I got to see Maddie dominate at nationals and I got to see her get married,” Zerzan says. “It’s not just about running. Running brings us together and then it expands into everything else.”
Zerzan believes that the whole team contributes to the supportive environment — not just a few mentors.
“The whole women’s team is really close-knit. It makes it easier to transition to college. You have a family. We all take care of each other, so if you are younger there is someone older who can help you out if needed.”
This idea comes, in part, from coaching philosophy. “I just try to emphasize to our runners that this is their team,” says cross country Coach Matt McGuirk. “And the younger people want the upperclassmen to show them the way. Someone has to be the leader.”
Last spring, Kimber Mattox ’11 placed second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA national championships. She viewed the whole team as mentors, but thought that Coffman and Jena Winger ’08 had been particularly welcoming to her after she transferred to Willamette from Cornell University.
“The team atmosphere gives you motivation to do all the little things you need to do to be prepared for the season,” Mattox says. “The tradition of Willamette cross country and track creates a passion to support teammates — not just to improve your own times. This in turn helps the team succeed.”
By Robert McKinney
Harmon Bruno ’12 is a Willamette-grade multitasker.
He’s one of the top defensive players on the Willamette football team, always around the ball, and is a solid tackler: In 2010, he earned an impressive 51 total take-downs.
He’s also majoring in rhetoric and media studies and is participating in Willamette’s demanding joint-degree BA/MBA program. Bruno is starting the fourth year of the five-year program that will provide him with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in business administration at the same time.
This alone raises eyebrows, but Bruno wants more.
As part of his studies, he completed an internship in marketing communications at Salem Hospital last summer. He worked on a variety of things, including writing news releases once or twice a week. “I’ve been getting a basic sense of journalism,” he says. “I want to get the groundwork for marketing in general. How it works, the different strategies.”
His summer routine also included working with an independent landscape contractor during the afternoon to pay bills and, of course, working out at the fitness center in the evening.
It was a busy summer, but that’s nothing new for Bruno.
“I’ve always carried a work ethic,” he says. “It’s not fun unless it’s difficult.”
Perhaps it was Bruno’s determination that enabled him to become a leader for the Bearcat football team, but he almost didn’t come here. “I didn’t actually commit to attend until late in the summer before freshman year,” he recalls. “I was originally going to go to the University of Oregon as a preferred walk-on, but then I was told that the position wasn’t available.”
He knew Ryan Bettencourt ’09, who played defensive back for the Bearcats from 2005–08. Bettencourt encouraged Bruno to consider Willamette, so Bruno arranged a visit. He and his parents were impressed.
Even so, things didn’t start out completely smoothly. “It was definitely a shock at first,” Bruno says about the difficulty of learning all the plays and competing against upperclassmen. He got off to a slow start in the classroom, and even considered leaving the team and going home to Danville, Calif.
But then his father said, “Are you going to quit? I’m not letting you come home.”
Bruno stuck with it. Against Southern Oregon in late September of his freshman year, he made two quarterback sacks and was boosted to a starting spot, taking part in Willamette’s 52-28 win at rival Linfield and another good game against Whitworth.
“All freshmen struggle to play early,” Head Coach Mark Speckman notes. “Bruno was in a battle for playing time. It made him a better player.”
Bruno’s academic efforts also began to improve after he adjusted his study habits. “I simply was not ready for the challenge of time management,” he says. “I began to meet with my professors and discuss strategies on improvement and study habits. I began to grind in school and have carried this work ethic into all situations today.”
He is now an example for other student-athletes on how to adapt to the rigors of a Willamette education. “I’ve played football for 10 years,” he says. “I’m really excited for the team I’m on right now. We have a lot of guys who work their rears off.”
It seems that Bruno has noticed in his teammates the same efforts that helped him grow as a student-athlete. After all, he’s been showing them the way.
News and Notes
Seven out of Ten Football Games at Home in 2011
Unusually, the Bearcats will spend very little time on the road this fall. They’ll play seven games at home, with only three away games (two in Portland and one in Tacoma) rounding out the schedule.
This is great news for fans of the Bearcats who live in Salem, Portland or elsewhere in the Willamette Valley.
Highlights will include home games against Northwest Conference rival Linfield College (Oct. 1), as well as NCAA Division III powers University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point (Sept. 3) and Hardin-Simmons University (Sept. 10) out of Texas.
The big game on the road will of course be against Portland State University, which competes in NCAA Division I and offers scholarships. Willamette, in NCAA Division III, does not have athletic scholarships and has one-tenth the student body to draw from (see Spring 2011, p. 9, for more information on the matchup).
At a Glance
The Willamette baseball team benefitted from excellent pitching on its way to a 22-17-1 overall record in 2011, up six wins from 2010. The Bearcat pitching staff achieved a 3.60 team earned run average, good for fifth all-time at Willamette.
Nick Symmonds ’06 won his fourth-consecutive national title in the 800-meter run at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., to earn a trip to the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, where he finished fifth. He reached the semifinals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Willamette’s tennis teams were both included in the final NCAA Division III West Region rankings for the 2010–11 season. The Bearcat men’s team was ranked 10th and the women’s team was ranked 11th.
Kimber Mattox ’11 set a Willamette steeplechase record to become the seventh fastest runner in NCAA Division III history. She placed second at the NCAA Championships in the steeplechase to earn All-America honors.
Senior baseball player Doug Bloom ’11, a shortstop from South Salem High School, concluded his Willamette career as the Bearcats’ all-time leader in four categories: at-bats (584), runs scored (145), stolen bases (54), and defensive assists (499).
Sophomore men’s basketball player Sean Dart ’12 hit 66.7 percent of his field goal attempts to rank second in the nation in NCAA Division III for shooting accuracy.
Five teams are planning reunion games/gatherings for this fall; check willamette.edu/alumni/events for details.
For complete news coverage, remember to check willamette.edu/athletics.