Cristyn Oliver has found her groove as a student-athlete during her sophomore year at Lawrence University.

Oliver, who won the individual Midwest Conference cross country championship in Fall Term and has now transitioned to the indoor track-and-field season, is enjoying the mix of athletics and academics after a difficult first year.

Pandemic protocols and cancelations during her first year meant no cross-country season, classes going remote, and limited socializing. Like other first-years, it was a trying way to begin her college journey.

Through it all, Oliver stayed positive. She said she never questioned her decision to come to Lawrence, 2,000 miles from her home in Redondo Beach, California.

For Oliver, a psychology major and religious studies minor, choosing Lawrence was not a hard choice. She had attended small schools while growing up and knew that she would feel most comfortable at a smaller university. She also received a good financial aid package, but the deciding factor was her desire to compete for Lawrence’s cross country and track teams.

“I liked the team when I met them, and Coach (Jason) Fast is really awesome,” Oliver said. “I’ve never had one conversation with him that was less than 10 minutes.”

Her first year was not what she expected, however. With the pandemic, it was difficult to make friends while social distancing. Taking classes on Zoom proved tiring. Paring that with not having a season made it hard to stay motivated. It was lonely, Oliver said.

But she persisted, knowing better days were coming.

“It’s been so much better now that we’re in person,” Oliver said. “Getting to meet new people who aren’t on my team, getting to know the professors a lot better, doing hands-on things in the classrooms like labs has been great.”

Cross country, soccer teams lead big athletics weekend

One challenge that remains is finding the time to balance school work with practices and meets. Part of her strategy is to complete smaller assignments between classes when the lessons are fresh in her mind and to get the work out of the way. But meets tend to take a long time, making it difficult to do homework on the weekends, she said.

On the run

When it was finally time to compete again, Oliver was geared to go.

In her cross country season, Oliver led the Vikings to their first Midwest Conference team championship since 2001. She was named the women’s individual conference champion, something that hasn’t happened at Lawrence since Julia Liebich ’01 did it in 1998.

Oliver’s achievement secured her a spot in the NCAA Division Ⅲ National Championships — the first Lawrence female runner to earn a spot at nationals since Val Curtis went in 2002. The 6,000-meter race was held Nov. 20 in Louisville, Kentucky. Oliver placed 85th, running the course in 22:20.0, the second fastest time in Lawrence women’s history.

Oliver has since switched her focus to the indoor track season. In the season debut, she won both the 3,000 meter and the mile run and was named Midwest Conference Track Performer of the Week. Next up is a Feb. 5 meet at Ripon College.

“I just looked at it as a base of where I’m at right now and how much I can improve to attempt to make another national meet, which is what I’m going to try to do,” Oliver said.