Sept. 15, 2008
by Bryce Bennett
Purdue Sports Information Student Assistant
For many cross country and track and field athletes, running comes natural. It is something that is instilled in them from the first time they lace up their shoes. Purdue University junior women's cross country/track and field standout Kristin Phillips came to love running in a very different manner.
She started running her freshmen year of high school with her friend because she wanted to stay in shape for soccer season. Her first impressions of the sport were less than flattering.
"We practiced all summer and I HATED it," Phillips said. "I cried everyday as my mom drove me to practice. I begged her to turn the car around back home."
However one day, Phillips' high school coach changed it up and put Phillips on the track for some 400-meter dash practice. Phillips was already dreading the practice and wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible. So she stepped up to the line, ran as fast as she could and a funny thing happened. She won. Pretty soon, she won all the time. She had found her passion for running.
Phillips went on to win back-to-back Arizona high school 5A cross country titles as a junior and senior at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Ariz., and was a four-time first-team all-state selection. On the track and field side, Phillips won high school state championships in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races. Upon finishing her high school career, Phillips set her sites on running cross country and track and field in college. Being from Phoenix, one would have expected her to stay out west. However, a visit to Purdue changed everything.
"I was really charmed by my first visit," Phillips explained. "I came during the fall, which we don't have in Arizona and it was so beautiful... I also loved the coaching staff and thought I would fit in well here."
Phillips started her freshmen year at Purdue with high hopes. Having experienced so much success in high school, she expected to do it all and do it well. However this approach would not work on the Division I level. Purdue Cross Country Assistant Coach, Kelly Phillips, described her freshman year.
"Kristin was the type of girl that wanted to do everything as a freshman," Coach Kelly Phillips
said. "For example, she wanted to do an all-night dance-a-thon for Riley Hospital because it was a good cause. She didn't make the connection that it wouldn't be a good idea with the Big Ten Championships the next week."
Kristin Phillips agrees with her coach's sentiments.
"Freshman year I didn't want to let anyone down and wanted to make everyone proud, but I went about it in the wrong way," Kristin Phillips said. "Rather than accepting that I was a freshman and wasn't going to set the world on fire, I just ran myself into the ground trying to catch up with the lead pack."
Slowly, Phillips realized her role on the team that season and excelled in several of the team's cross country events. This included being the team's top finisher in the NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championship, finishing fifth at the Illinois Invitational, sixth at the Indiana Intercollegiates, and 14th at the Indiana Invitational. During the spring track and field season, Phillips placed fourth in the 1,500-meter run at the 2007 Auburn Tiger Classic.
These solid finishes gave her the confidence heading into her sophomore year; a year in which Phillips began to realize her full potential on both the cross country and track and field levels. During cross country season, she placed fourth overall in the Loyola Lakefront Invitational, second at the Great American Legends Race, fifth at the Indiana Intercollegiate Meet and third at the Big Ten Championships. She was also Purdue's top finisher at NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships for the second straight year. On the track and field side, Phillips finished first in the 1,500-meter race at the Dave Rankin Invitational and also had the team's top time in the 5,000-meter event. Phillips credits her coaches for her continued improvement and drive as a runner
"Coach Kelly is never afraid to tell you what is on her mind and doesn't sugar coat anything. She knows what makes great runners because she herself is a great runner," Kristin Phillips said.
Phillips also credits her special bond with teammates, who continually push her to compete. It is an acknowledgement of team first which makes her always strive for that extra effort.
"Kristin (Phillips) has always been a team player and one that wants to win and fight hard in everything she does," explained Coach Kelly Phillips.
There is one teammate in particular that always brings out the best in Phillips and one that continually pushes her to that next level. Fellow junior and cross country standout Katie Morrical has developed a special competitive bond with Phillips; a healthy bond that always brings out the best of both girls during practice and races.
"Katie and I are great together because we push the heck out of each other, Phillips explained. "Where I am weaker, she is stronger. Where she is weaker, I am stronger...I admire her for her drive and work ethic."
Entering the current 2008 cross country season, Phillips attempted to set her goals high, but also but also wanted to remain focused and realistic of what she could achieve. The season got off to a bang on September 5th when Phillips finished first in the Great American Legends 5k race at Purdue University with a time of 18:20.14. Morrical finished second with a time of 18:24.51. Phillips was pleased with the victory and hopes she and the team can build off of it.
"Winning the Great American (Legends) race was neat, but it is only the beginning," Phillips said. "There is a LOT more of the season to go. I want to take this team to Nationals. I know we have the talent, it is just a matter of keeping everyone focused and healthy."
A lot has changed for Phillips since the day she first went out for cross country as a freshman in high school. Though there have been ups and downs, she persevered, like any true competitor tries to do.