Kimberly Johansen has been through a lot of change during her three years with the Elon University cross country team.

There was the coaching switch less than two weeks before her sophomore season, when Nick Polk took the helm. At the same time, Elon entered the Colonial Athletic 
Association (CAA).

Then Johansen dealt with a nagging calf injury all her junior season, a frustrating twist after she earned All-CAA honors in cross country and was named CAA Most Outstanding Performer in track and field in her sophomore year.

Now a senior, right out of the best summer of her career, Johansen’s a symbol of the evolving women’s cross country team that’s hungry to break through and win its first CAA championship.

“Having won two conference championships on the track, we are ever-so-thirsty to win one on the cross country course,” she said. “That is definitely something Nick has driven into us, and definitely something we’re capable of doing.”

This year, Johansen, along with fellow senior Shelby Cuddeback, is the anchor on a team that features seven freshmen. Elon opens its season Sept. 1 in the Elon Opener.

While she still managed All-CAA nods in both cross country and track last season — no easy feat — Johansen was hampered by a calf tear. She continued to run through the pain, saying it took a while to figure out what the actual issue was.

“It made me realize my limits,” Johansen said.

Johansen responded by spending the summer at home in Chelmsford, England, not working but instead focusing on putting forth the best efforts in her training on a daily basis.

She took a class, but besides that, there were no distractions. Her father, a licensed chef, cooked her meals, and her boyfriend rode his bike alongside her during evening runs.

As a result, Johansen feels more prepared for senior year and all that it brings.

“When I first started coaching Kim, she immediately had a lot more success than she had ever had,” Polk said. “That weighed on her heavily. … I think looking back, she looked at the races and thought everything felt good, felt easy. When it didn’t come that second year, it was hard.

“This year, she sort of recalibrated and came back to a place where she understands it’s not going to be easy. The expectations are still going to be high.”

Elon finished third in the CAA Championships last season and second the year before. Last year’s team earned the Phoenix its highest finish ever at the Southeast Regionals, placing seventh.

Juniors Brigid Brennan and Corey Weiss, along with sophomores Alicia DeCastro, Coralea Geraniotis, Carolyn Hopkins and Chelsea Smith, all return for Elon.

Polk says expectations have changed since he arrived, and he thinks he finally has the group that can win the

Johansen understands that, too, especially after having the success on the track.

“It’s just time,” she said. “It’s just time for us to step up and show everyone what we really can do.”

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