Baldwin a key team asset

Kaitlin Cordes , Cross Country Reporter

Junior Maria Baldwin has not only proven herself throughout her years at Eastern on the cross-country course, but she has solidified herself as a key asset to the team, and it showed in her performance at the season opener.

Baldwin placed first overall in the women’s five-kilometer race last Friday at the Panthers’ season and home opener, the EIU Walt Crawford Open. She covered the Panther Trail in just 17 minutes and 48.92 seconds.

Baldwin’s performance set a new school record, which she shattered by seven seconds, and she was a mere four seconds off of her personal career best time.

Such feats do not occur without physical and mental preparation, however. Baldwin has been training for this meet and for the 2016 season throughout the summer.

Cross-country coach Erin Howarth said Baldwin spent the summer months sweating and training in the weight room and on the course.

Howarth described Baldwin as someone who is always prepared to compete.

“Maria is one of those people who is always ready to rave,” Howarth said. “She loves race day and even loves workouts.”

For the season opener, Baldwin said she mentally prepared herself for the most difficult parts of the course by envisioning herself feeling strong throughout the race instead of tired at the toughest areas.

This year, Baldwin is a co-captain with some of her senior teammates. Howarth said she put Baldwin in this position because she is a natural leader.

“She is a leader by example,” Howarth said. “If you just watch her, you think to yourself ‘wow, I want to race like her.’”

Howarth said Baldwin embodies the team slogan “we before me” well.

Baldwin said much of her focus for Friday’s race was on team performance, not just her own.She and seniors Ivy Handley, Ruth Garippo and Rachel Garippo combine for a solid top four for the Panthers, said Baldwin. Baldwin said that individually, the foursome are strong at different points in the race and as a pack, they play off those strengths.

Baldwin said she had confidence going into this meet, not only in herself, but also in her teammates.

“I had no concerns going into this meet,” Baldwin said. “I knew that our top four was solid and that if we worked together, great things would happen. We still have work to do, but we are at a great place right now.”

Baldwin said her strategy going into the meet was just pacing the course with her team and finishing within seconds of each other.

Eastern snatched the overall race victory over seven other schools, earning 17 points, with the Panthers finishing in four of the top five positions.

Baldwin was also named the Ohio Valley Conference Female Cross Country Runner of the Week after her victory last week.

Her first season performance of the year was the top 5K time in the OVC this season by 20 seconds.

Howarth summed Baldwin up with just one word.

“When I think of Maria, I think fierce,” Howarth said.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]