Danielle Schultz is a cross country runner at Webster University. She became the first person in cross country to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championship.
Women’s cross country runner Danielle Schultz crossed the finish-line at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III Midwest Regionals in 22 minutes and 28 seconds – securing 20th place. Schultz broke not only her personal record, but also the Webster University record for a 6K race.
And Schultz’s time was only the start of her record-breaking success.
On Nov. 14, just a day after regionals, Schultz learned she had qualified for the NCAA Division III Championship. She is the first person on either of Webster’s cross country teams to qualify for the event.
Despite her excitement, Schultz’s history-making moment didn’t come without challenges. Schultz said she faced inner doubts about her abilities and the loneliness of competing without her teammates by her side.
“Going into [regionals, I] did not think that I would qualify for nationals, nor would I run the school’s best time for a 6K,” Schultz said. “So I was very shocked myself and shocked with my capabilities to do that.”
Head cross country coach Chris Sandefur said he wants to get athletes at Webster thinking about competing at a national level. He said he structured training to be more intense, which helps team members see that making it to the national championship is possible.
Sandefur said he also wants students to believe in themselves and their abilities.
“You just kind of look at the people next to you on the starting line and like, those are human beings just like me,” Sandefur said. “We are all here and we all deserve to be here.”
Schultz said she, along with others in her St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) conference, suspected that she qualified for nationals upon finishing her regional race. However, she said she did not want to get her hopes up.
Sandefur said he realized fairly quickly that Schultz had the possibility to qualify for nationals.
“Kind of the first mile she was like up towards the front, and she looked strong and relaxed and it was kind of like she went out too quick, but she was kind of holding back a little bit,” Sandefur said.
At the time, Schultz said she didn’t fully realize she was the first cross country runner at Webster University to qualify for nationals. She knew that none of the women had qualified but said she was unaware that no one on the men’s team had ever qualified.
“I’m kind of glad I didn’t know because I think I would have doubted myself even more, like, ‘There’s no way I could have been the first person,’” Schultz said.
The NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships took place on Nov. 20 at Louisville, Kentucky. Schultz completed the 6K in 23 minutes and 32 seconds, and ended up in 245th place.
While Schultz had family cheering her on from the sidelines, she said she missed her teammates.
“I really do run for my teammates,” Shultz said. “That was the main reason I actually joined the running team.”
Normally, Schultz said all of her training sessions included her friends on the cross country team. On race days, she said teammates would say phrases like, “We’re so much stronger than we believe,” and, “You’ve got this.”
“So warming up for nationals, I didn’t have my girls there,” Schultz said. “And I was kind of just by myself, like in my own thoughts trying to keep myself calm.”
Schultz said she wished for a better time at nationals but was happy to have the experience of competing. Now, she hopes to also qualify for track nationals this year.
She said she almost qualified for nationals in the previous track season and thinks Sandefur’s training can help her get there. Sandefur said Schultz qualifying for cross country nationals will help her prepare for the track season.
“I think this performance this year allows her to build those goals on the track side, [and being a] national qualifier is now realistic,” Sandefur said.
Along with qualifying for the NCAA DIII Cross Country Championship, Schultz also earned All-Midwest Region honors for placing in the top 35 at the regional competition. Teammate Kyanne Williams also received this title after finishing in 34th place.
SLIAC also named Schultz the Women’s Cross Country Runner of the Year for the second year in a row. Schultz said she was surprised, but honored by the announcement, and said she thought Williams could have earned the title as well.
Looking back, Sandefur said both the men’s and women’s cross country teams did well in terms of passing personal records.
“Almost everybody on the [men’s] team set a personal best on that day which was just kind of a big stepping stone for the future,” Sandefur said.
Going forward, Schultz hopes to look back on her success this year to overcome any self-doubt she may encounter in the future.