By Brian Wagenaar
Collegiate cross-country season is in full swing, and Katie Doucette is leading the Mountaineers with consecutive top performances. The redshirt junior and team captain has been named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) Cross Country Runner of the Week twice thus far, including at the Mountaineers home meet on Sept. 18, where both the men’s and women’s teams triumphed against teams from Trinidad State, Colo. Mesa University, Adams State, and Dine College (Ariz.).
Doucette, who also runs long-distance races for the track team in the spring, finished 1st at the Mountaineers home XC meet, setting a course record in the 5k with a time of 17:35.64, leading a field of 36 athletes and finishing a full 40 seconds faster than the second-place finisher.
Back on Sept. 3, Doucette shined amidst stiff competition at Wyoming Cross Country Invite in Cheyenne, finishing first amongst D-2 runners and 12th overall out of 80 runners with a time of 17:42.5 on the 5k course. That meet featured other top Colorado teams from CU-Boulder and Colorado State University.
Doucette was recruited within Colorado, and by schools in other states, but chose Western due to its strong academics, the close-knit nature of the team, and the Mountaineers’ storied legacy of running in both cross country and track.
She listed Alicja Konieczek, a Polish runner who competed at Western for five years before graduating in 2019, and who ran the 3k Steeplechase at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, as an inspiration. Konieczek left Western with 9 National Championships and 15 All-American selections to her name.
The first few times she competed with D-1 athletes, Doucette was intimidated, but now with more experience, she fits right in. Doucette highlighted that her times match up evenly, even favorably, with many D-1 athletes, as do those of many other Mountaineer runners.
Covid-19 put a damper on the season last year, but the Mountaineers did host their home meet, and attended the RMAC Conference Championships, albeit without spectators, before Covid preemptively ended the season. Doucette said she was just grateful for the chance to compete, a mindset shared by her fellow teammates.
Doucette was invited to compete at the 2020 NCAA National Championships, but the athletes were sent home the night before the competition. Doucette admits that experience was really tough, dealing with the uncertainty of a Covid-mired season, and also getting pulled from the event that was the culmination of a year’s hard work.
“My teammates have really kept me going. That’s the nice thing about it, it is a team sport, and you have people by your side to motivate you for whatever that next opportunity might be, even if you don’t know what that will be yet” said Doucette, who runs with her teammates whenever feasible.
The team is off to a solid start this season, with chances to prove themselves in Arkansas at the Chili Pepper Invite this weekend, followed by the RMAC Championships on Oct. 23rd in Golden, Colorado, the South-Central Regional Championships in Lubbock, Texas on Nov. 6th, and the NCAA Championships in Tampa, Florida on Nov. 20. Top-placing athletes will be invited to the next rung of competition come championship season in late October.
Doucette also wants to combat the notion that this is a rebuilding year for the young yet talented women’s cross-country squad, who were projected to finish third in the 10-team conference, behind Colorado School of Mines and Adams State.
Doucette runs around 75 miles per week, a figure which has increased gradually over her career at Western. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the whole team will mix in a more difficult workout, either with hill running or interval training. The team concludes the week with a long-distance run on Sundays. This is on top of additional physical therapy (PT) and lifting workouts multiple times per week.
Doucette added that it is critical for her to trust her fitness and preparation heading into meets. “Mentally preparing is huge, but it’s also important to not psych yourself out,” she noted. Strategy certainly plays a role, both individually and for the Western team collectively, with considerations for energy efficiency, sizing up the competition, and predicting and responding to different teams’ strategies.
Regarding her future plans, Doucette says she plans to stick around for at least one more year of competition, which will afford her an opportunity to spread out her class load and manage the balance between academics and athletics.
With Doucette leading the charge for at least one more year, the outlook for this women’s team is strong heading into championship season and further ahead into 2022.