When Amelia Pullen graduated from the Washougal High School, she could have chosen to compete at the biggest levels of collegiate running.
But the 2018 Class 2A cross country state champion knew bigger wouldn’t make her better.
Instead, she chose to run at Warner Pacific. The Portland college has about 1,300 students, six of whom run for the women’s cross country team.
In that setting, Pullen has thrived. Friday, she capped a stellar freshman season by placing 10th at the NAIA Cross Country Championships at Fort Vancovuer National Historic Site.
One of 340 finishers, Pullen covered the 5,000 meter loop course in 18 minutes, 19 seconds. At 20th place midway through, she surged to finish 61 seconds behind winner Hannah Stoffel of Huntington University (Indiana).
Prior to Friday’s race, Pullen had already done things no runner at Warner Pacific had accomplished.
She’s the first Warner Pacific woman to win the Cascade Collegiate Conference championship, setting a school record by covering 5,000 meters in 17:35. Last week, she was named NAIA West Region Women’s Athlete of the Year for cross country.
Not that rewriting the Warner Pacific record book was Pullen’s goal.
“I told myself that would be awesome if you got a PR this year, but this is just for the fun of it and the experience,” Pullen said. “Getting all these PRs and setting records is an exciting bonus.”
Pullen was also allowed to bring her beloved dog Cienna into the team’s fold. The 8-year-old black Labrador joins the team for most of their runs.
“Cienna is like our team mascot,” said Warner Pacific coach Randy Dalzell.
Dalzell said Pullen has trived because the small size of the program allows athletes to have their needs tailored to. Dalzell made sure Pullen wouldn’t be overstressed by competition (Friday’s race was just her fifth this season) or by the adjustment to college life.
“Not being in the pressure cooker, that’s the advantage of being at a middle- or small-sized school,” Dalzell said. “Sometimes they’ll talk about a Division-I school being a meat grinder. I don’t think that would have been conducive to her.”
Friday’s culmination of the season wasn’t the largest stage in collegiate cross country. But that’s just fine with Pullen.
“The team is very cohesive,” she said. “We’re like a small family. I love that small feel.”
Oklahoma City’s Shaw wins men’s title
Mark Shaw of Oklahoma City University won his second NAIA men’s cross country title in three years. The senior covered the 8,000 meter course in 24:39, five seconds ahead of Tony Floyd of Madonna University (Michigan).
Shaw also won in 2017, the previous time the NAIA championships were held at Fort Vancouver.