After nearly a year of training without competition, the Lehigh women’s cross country team got off to a hot start led by the Patriot League Cross Country athlete of the week, sophomore Madison Zaun.
Zaun received the accolade for her strong performance against Loyola, where she beat her 5k personal record with a time of 17 minutes and 45 seconds.
The obstacles that were presented over the course of the last year were not easy to overcome, but head Coach Debbie Utesch made sure that her athletes remained in shape and ready to compete when the opportunity presented itself by sending weekly training plans.
For Zaun, finding the motivation and ability to run with full intensity alone was a difficult new challenge.
“I am the type of person who doesn’t usually mind running alone once in a while, but this was definitely more solo runs than I’d ever want and I really missed running with my teammates for countless reasons,” Zaun said.
Last spring, Zaun had an injury that interrupted training for over a month, but once she recovered she was able to get into the best shape of her career. While her goal wasn’t to win an award or PR in the 5k, she has an ample amount of confidence in her ability to compete which stems from her work ethic.
Winning Patriot League XC Athlete of the Week was not on the forefront of Zaun’s mind, but rather a result of wanting to win so badly. Coming off of a year without competing, Coach Utesch and the team were focused on seeing where everyone stood in terms of physical fitness and performance.
The Patriot League Cross Country Championships begin on March 5, and Zaun is looking forward to racing with her teammates, especially when the stakes are high.
“I am always looking forward to competition, but this one that matters most because we are competing against the best runners in the Patriot League,” Zaun said.
The team is familiar with the championship route as the meet will take place on a road course throughout Goodman Campus. It is an incredible opportunity for the team to familiarize themselves with the course, if they haven’t already, to give themselves the biggest advantage possible over the other runners.
Not only has Zaun developed the self-confidence needed to perform at a high level, but also the trust and support of her teammates.
Junior Nicole Abbondandelo believes that Zaun’s growth as both a runner and a leader since she arrived at Lehigh has been remarkable.
“(Zaun) has always been a great teammate to have since the first day she got here. She brings a lot of positive energy to the team and is also a very talented runner,” Abbondandelo said.
Sophomore Andrea Miller expressed Zaun’s ability to be a leader, but also to be a friend, as something that makes her so approachable.
Cross country is unique in that athletes compete against runners from other schools but also against their own teammates. This presents a very ambitious atmosphere at practices and meets.
Even with this competitiveness, everyone was thrilled Zaun received Athlete of the Week.
“We are all really proud of Madison (Zaun) and are excited to see what she and the rest of the team can accomplish in the rest of the season,” said Miller.
Being from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Zaun has captured the attention of the surrounding community in addition to those in Lehigh Athletics. “A lot of my high school teammates, friends, and even past teachers have followed me so far throughout my time at Lehigh and it makes me happy to have people who are excited for me,” Zaun said.
Being so close to home has also made it an easy trip for her friends and family to attend races. Unfortunately, the COVID restrictions in place have not allowed her family to attend this season, but she is making them proud by her performance.