It is the most unlikely of scenarios: a college senior coming out for a sport in his final season and quickly performing like a seasoned veteran.
This is the story of Scott Pinske.
Having never competed on a cross country team, Pinske has made an immediate impact for head coach Travis Olson and the Wildcats.
Running his first collegiate competition against Lewis & Clark in an informal dual meet, Pinske blazed to a second-place finish in the eight-kilometer race. After an eye-opening debut, Pinske responded with a ninth-place finish in the Lewis & Clark Invitational, before placing 11th at the Willamette Grass Course race this past weekend.
“I was nervous beyond belief. When I came to the team, people already knew who I was since I was ‘that senior’ who came out,” says Pinske of his first race. “I really didn’t know what I was supposed to live up to. It was pretty nerve wracking, but a nice surprise.”
As intriguing as Pinske’s early success is, it is his journey getting to that point that is equally as impressive.
When Pinske came to Linfield three years ago, it was baseball, not cross country, that he expected to participate in at the collegiate level. After not joining the baseball team, Pinske’s focus shifted toward running.
“I had always enjoyed long distance running, though I wasn’t very good at it,” notes the senior from Trinidad, Calif. “During my freshman and sophomore year, I started to pick it up, running a few road races like a 10K. By junior year, I was getting pretty quick and come senior year I knew I had one shot and I thought I could compete at the collegiate level.”
Following a meeting with associate coach Greg Mitchell in which the two discussed the possibility of joining the team, Pinske began to log countless hours in the summer leading up to his senior year. With just four days off and hundreds of miles under his belt, Pinske put his body in a position to deal with the daily grind.
The biggest change for Pinske has been the newly found competition in races, along with the grueling and structured schedule it requires.
“The first three years, it was a lot more relaxed and laid back because I was on my schedule. If I wanted to take a day off I always had that option,” recalls Pinske. “Now I am constantly running for something as opposed to just race to race. I am running toward conference and then regionals. It is more competitive because I know who I am running against and I see the times they are posting up.”
With a brief running history that included a handful of road races, Pinske clearly has distinguished himself as a contender in the Northwest Conference. What makes Pinske’s situation so unique is the fact that his unsupervised training schedule has translated into success on a competitive stage.
“The idea of a senior, who really has no background in the sport, to come in and have an immediate impact on a team is unheard of,” remarks Wildcats head coach Travis Olson.
But what are Pinske’s intangibles that have allowed him to burst on the scene and succeed so quickly?
“The first thing that comes to mind is his mental toughness,” explains Olson. “He has decided mentally that nothing is going to get in his way of being a successful runner here at Linfield. He has done everything we have asked of him and I really think the sky is the limit for him this year.”
For Pinske, his biggest strength and weakness are one and the same.
“I think it would probably be the inexperience,” notes Pinske. “It goes both ways because my opponents know what they are doing in terms of pacing themselves and how to stay with the competition and within their limits. For me, I am running every race like it’s my last. In that sense I am coming out with a lot of energy and I get to use it all this year because there is no next year.”
Pinske, whose grandfather was an all-American two-mile runner at Western Michigan, came into the season with the hope of being a letterwinner. With three races down, the international business major is having to reevaluate his goals.
“I have to reset my goals,” reflects Pinske. “Instead of me just trying to be a letterwinner, I have to look at where I can place at conference.”
Following this season Pinske will look to find a job in the energy sector, with the possibility of running for a post-collegiate club, eventually working his way up to a marathon. As for athletes thinking of taking the same route, Pinske’s message is simple.
“At a Division III school, the doors are always open,” he says. “I picked up running because it was something I liked and then turned it from a hobby to something I do competitively. Don’t play a sport just because you have played it your whole life. Play it because you want to and the results will work out.”
--Eric Evenson ‘11