Cross country is a vigorous sport that takes both a physical and mental toll on runners. However, one runner on the women’s cross country team shows extra effort by helping her teammates in addition to keeping up her own game.
Junior Sydney Stuenkel first began her cross country career during her freshman year of high school in St. Charles, Illinois. Although she skipped running during her sophomore year to pursue other interests, she returned to the sport for her last two years of high school, qualifying for the State Tournament both her junior and senior years.
Her dedication and determination is what helped her make it on the Loyola women’s team, according to Assistant Coach Jackie Kropp.
“I have known [Stuenkel] for about four years now,” Kropp said. “I recruited her when she was a senior year in high school, and she’s shown consistency with her training ever since.”
Throughout her freshman year, the new Rambler runner continued to show her potential. Stuenkel placed in all six meets in which she participated during her first season.
At the Horizon Championship meet in 2012, she placed third with a final time of 18:14, winning the Horizon Newcomer of the Year honor.
Later in her first season, Stuenkel was the fourth Loyola runner on the women’s team to place at the 40th Annual Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational.
Stuenkel continued her success as a sophomore.
Stuenkel is already off to a hot start this season, placing second overall at the Illinois State Invitational.
According to the accomplished runner, her experiences as a member of Loyola’s cross country team have been far beyond memorable.
“It’s really interesting to see how close the running community is,” Stuenkel said. “I always knew it was a really tight-knit place. Our team is so close, and even amongst other teams we race, everyone is just so friendly.”
While everyone on her team is special to her in different ways, there are certain runners who have stood out and helped her through her college experience.
“I’m very close to the girls that are my own age because [of] all the years I’ve been together with them,” Stuenkel said. “I really think that the other juniors, especially Ella Tracy, Hannah Magnuson and Ericka Laviste, have really stepped it up athletically this year. They’re great friends, great teammates and great new leaders of this team.”
According to some of her fellow runners, Stuenkel is a leader on the team.
“She really cares about running, and she also really cares about our team as a whole,” said Tracy. “She cares about our team’s dynamic and makes sure that everyone’s keeping up with what they’re doing. She’s a really strong leader as well as performer.”
Kropp also believes that Stuenkel has stepped up as a leader, especially through her running.
“She’s taken up a leadership role kind of as being a frontrunner at this point,” Kropp said. “She’s been able to not only achieve the goals in what she wants to accomplish, but also help the underclassmen to figure things out.”
Stuenkel’s guidance has aided the younger runners, helping them improve. Freshmen Lindsey Brewis and Emma Hatch have been within the top seven runners on the team and have stepped it up in their competition, according to Stuenkel.
One of Stuenkel’s main inspirations has been Kropp. Even though she is listed as an assistant coach on the athletic website, Kropp has been the primary coach for the women’s cross country team.
“[Kropp] is one of the major reasons I decided to come to Loyola,” Stuenkel said. “She’s a great person to have as a friend, and I definitely wouldn’t have as much confidence in myself without her supporting the goals that I make.”
Stuenkel’s confidence is something that Kropp has noticed as an asset on the course.
“One of the keys to her success is that she’s confident in her ability and what she’s capable of doing, and she doesn’t get intimidated at high-level competitions,” Kropp said. “I think that’s something that really helped her in her career as an athlete.”
With women’s cross country placing fourth in its first two meets and third in College of DuPage Invitational, Stuenkel and the team are looking forward to the future success of the team this season.
“We’re all honestly very good friends, and I think that’s something special about our team,” Stuenkel said. “I’m really excited to see what else we’re going to do in the rest of the season.”
The Ramblers are scheduled to compete in the Notre Dame Invitational on Oct. 3 in South Bend, Indiana.