Perhaps Joe Westrick was born to run, but he wasn’t necessarily hard-wired to race. That was something he needed to develop.
As he prepares for his senior season with the Gannon cross country team, the Chartiers Valley graduate is nearing the finish line of one of the most decorated careers in program history.
He became the Golden Knights’ first two-time All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference honoree after finishing 11th in the conference championship as a sophomore and fourth in 2018. Westrick followed his fourth-place showing at PSACs by taking fifth at the Atlantic Regional then placing 81st in the NCAA Division II championship.
He was the highest PSAC finisher at the national meet, and all three of his 2018 postseason performances were high-water marks for the program. As a bonus, in June he was named a Google Cloud Academic All-American, the first in program history.
“I just took it one race at a time,” said Westrick, who has a 4.0 GPA as an environmental engineering major. “I had goals at the beginning of the season, but you look at the next race and figure out how you want to finish. I would say last year I achieved my goals and a lot more.”
That he has achieved so much as a collegian is somewhat of a surprise. Westrick admitted he wasn’t a serious runner when he joined the varsity at Chartiers Valley, but he credited childhood friend and fellow runner Matt Thomas and Colts coach Lori Poe for changing his attitude toward the sport.
Thomas, a rising senior runner at John Carroll, would push Westrick if he felt his friend was taking a workout too lightly. Poe, meanwhile, introduced Westrick to race strategy, something he has relied on heavily to excel at Gannon.
“He knows how to race, and that’s what makes him good,” Gannon coach John Carrig said. “Some kids just go out and run, and they’re fast. But he loves to race. He analyzes who the competition is. He knows where he is supposed to be and what he is supposed to do to make himself better.”
Added Westrick: “I’m typically described as a racer rather than a runner. I’d rather go head-to-head with someone rather than run away from the field.”
Running away from the field is what some anticipate from Westrick this fall. The three runners who finished ahead of him at last season’s PSAC championship — West Chester’s Josh Coakley, Mansfield’s Ryan Clifford and Bloomsburg’s Nick McGuire — graduated, leaving Westrick as the top returning runner.
The fifth-place finisher, Edinboro’s Jared Hallow, also graduated, further thinning the field for Westrick. Still, he isn’t taking anything for granted nor is he putting any undue pressure on himself.
“I’m just going to use my same approach,” he said. “I’m just going from one race to the next. The conference graduated a lot of talent, but young guys always step up. It’s going to be a good group of guys battling up there trying to win the conference title.”
Carrig said he doesn’t like making predictions but believes Westrick will contend for the PSAC title. One prediction he did make is Westrick will be a reliable leader for the team.
“He’s a great team player,” Carrig said. “He wants to go back to nationals. He’s working hard at it, but he also cares about the team. He’s good with the younger guys, letting them know what it takes to be a good runner.”