Three races. Three wins. And just over three weeks until senior Laura Tarantino gets to run for redemption at the GLVC Championships.
Tarantino picked up her third straight victory this weekend at the Div. II Showcase at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. After victories at the Lindenwood Dual and UIS Invitational to kick off the season, Tarantino led 111 competitors across the finish line in Nashville.
Fourteen schools from all over the country participated in the showcase event, with Tarantino’s performance, followed by Junior Michaela Hylen’s 6th place run, granting Truman State University a 2nd place team medal. The Bulldogs finished with 81 points, following the first place team, Bloomsburg University, who tallied 76. Tarantino says the meet was a great experience on a beautiful course and a fun camaraderie builder for all the Div. II schools competing.
Tarantino did not have time to make friends, however, as she ran the 5K in a dominating time of 18:46.9, 11.5 seconds faster than the second place individual.
Tarantino says she expected improvement but has been happily surprised with what she has been able to do the last few weeks. Racing against the clock rather than other runners can be a challenge, Tarantino says. She also says she ran to win, but despite a big lead, she says her winning time did not match up with what she personally considers a fast time.
“I’m my greatest competitor and critic,” Tarantino says. “I’m always racing myself, so even when someone is not with me I’m still thinking about my time and working to push myself. I do think that’s harder, because I love the motivation of being competitive with other people. I really look forward to some of the bigger races because I really want to run faster times than I have been.”
Bigger races are coming for her and the rest of the Bulldog men’s and women’s cross country teams. The women will run their first 6K of the season Sept. 8 at the Jackling Jocks Invite at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The ‘Dogs will get one weekend off, then it will be time for the GLVC Championships, also hosted at the Missouri S&T golf course.
Tarantino says the women’s team hopes to finish top 5 in the GLVC but will have to stick together more as a team to move up in the ranks. Tarantino says the conference is tough from top to bottom, but she thinks her team can hang in the top half.
Personally, Tarantino says she has just started to think about individual goals for the conference meet. Tarantino says she is focusing on this week of training and pushing through a lot of mileage, but now she will do so with an all-conference goal in mind.
“I guess the number that has been floating through my head the last few days is top 10, top 5,” Tarantino says. “Really just with how things have gone for me the past two years, I’ve just felt disappointed with how I’ve raced under the pressure at conference. I was 16th my sophomore year, one spot from all-conference. Now I know I’m in shape to be there in that top 15, and that’s the goal, just run my race and see what happens. I feel like I still have a lot left this season. I feel like I haven’t let myself see my full potential yet.”
Tarantino says she feels less nervous about the conference meet this year despite the persisting power of her opponents in the GLVC.
This season, the GLVC remains a power conference with two teams in the top 25 nationally. The University of Southern Indiana came in 6th this week while Lewis took 23rd. The University of Wisconsin-Parkside also received votes in the national polls. Tarantino currently has the 6th best 4K time in the conference.
Head Coach Tim Schwegler says Laura has been doing a great job of controlling the races and sticking to effective race tactics. Schwegler says Tarantino won the last race by pulling away in the final 1200, but she will be challenged even further at upcoming meets.
Schwegler says he thinks Tarantino will reach her all-conference goal and hopes to see her land a spot on what he called one of the toughest all-region teams in the nation. Further down the road, Schwegler says he could see her having a shot at nationals with the shape she is in.
“She’s really fit right now, so that’s kind of exciting,” Schwegler says. “Now we’re waiting for her mind to catch up to her fitness, and it should really be an interesting season. She’s getting there though — mentally, she’s improving every race. She’s starting to believe she can run with anybody right now.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams will race back-to-back meets at the Missouri S&T golf course. The ‘Dogs will get their first taste of the course Saturday, Oct. 8, and will then return for the conference meet Saturday, Oct. 22.