When the Seton Hall women’s cross country team began its 2015 campaign, it was without Christiana Rutkowski.
She missed her sophomore season due to injury, and for the first time in her cross country career, she was unable to compete, to train, to do the thing she loves most: run.
Rutkowski eventually fought her way back in time for the 2016 season, one that she was grateful to simply be a part of.
“I didn’t have a great cross country season my junior year, but at the end of the day I was just very happy to run in general,” Rutkowski said. “Coming in, I was just grateful to be healthy and be able to train with the team and compete.”
Rutkowski ran in seven meets as a junior, earning the top spot among Seton Hall runners on three occasions. She placed sixth overall at the Asics Embry-Riddle Classic last September and set a season-best 6K time when she placed seventh overall at the Leopard Invitation in October.
Coming into this season, Rutkowski made a concerted effort to get into her best shape and prepare herself for the 2017 season.
“I left like I was in good shape last year, but I wasn’t in the shape that I thought I was,” Rutkowski said. “I’m a big believer in consistent training and just steadily increasing, so I knew coming into this year that I was in good shape based off a couple races I did this summer.”
Rutkowski’s teammates had seen the strides she had made over the past year as well. Junior Olivia Gregorio said she had witnessed first-hand the work that Rutkowski put in to ensure she is ready for the 2017 season.
“The big thing that we’ve talked about over the past few races for her is grit,” Gregorio said, noting how Rutkowski was in the gym every day over the summer trying to improve herself. “Sometimes our workouts with coach Joh Moon are going to be harder than the races.”
The hard work paid off for Rutkowski through three meets in 2017, as she placed first in each one. She began the season by posting a career-best 4K time of 14.27.7 at the Monmouth Kick-Off, followed by first-place finishes at both the Wolfie Invitational and the NYIT Invitational.
The whole team came in first in two of the three meets as well.
While hard work and training is something Rutkowski pointed to as reasons for success this season, she could not ignore the impact that Moon has had on her journey.
“He’s just another father figure, he really cares and is so passionate about running and wants you to succeed,” Rutkowski said. “Even since freshman year, just the constant belief that he has had in me and he reminds me that I can do great things if I just believe it.”
The support that the team gave Rutkowski stretched far beyond Moon. The relationships that she had formed with her teammates, namely Gregorio, helped Rutkowski find the confidence and motivation she needed.
“I would say if not my closest friend, [Rutkowski is] one of my closest friends,” Gregorio said. “We’re our biggest support systems outside of our families for each other.”
Gregorio also explained how the relationship between her and Rutkowski grew in just a short amount of time.
“We were friends my freshman year, and just within a year we got so much closer, and I think that’s indicative of her attitude and compassion and positive energy that she brings to the team,” Gregorio said.
Success has come to Rutkowski through a combination of hard work and support from her teammates. Now, after three first-place finishes to begin the year, teammates like Gregorio cannot help but be ecstatic for her.
“I’m really happy to see that everything is falling into place for her,” Gregorio said.
Matt Ambrose can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @mambrose97.