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Katherine Walker is a freshman on this year’s cross country team. In just her first season, the native of Stafford, Va., has helped the Cavaliers to their best finish at ACCs in 13 years and to their second NCAA Southeast Region Championship in three years. With the regional title, the Cavaliers earned an automatic bid to NCAAs and will head to Terre Haute, Ind., to compete for a national title on Monday. Races are set to begin at approximately 12:08 p.m.

Question: You’ve been a part of a very successful women’s cross country team this year. What has been your favorite thing about Virginia and being a Cavalier?
Walker: My favorite thing about being a Cavalier is the sense of family that both our team has and that the school has in general. The girls that we run with all have a great bond and that’s my all-time favorite part. You leave home and you leave a family, and then you get to come into one here, so it’s really awesome.

Question: What has been the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make?
Walker: You depend on different factors in high school. At home, you have the support system of an immediate family right there. And like I said, my favorite part here is having this family. That was probably the biggest adjustment, having my teammates become my family. In high school, I had a very small team, but here we have a lot of depth and everybody takes care of everybody, and with the addition of more mileage, that really helps you get through it.

Question: What do you find has been the most rewarding piece of advice you’ve been given so far?
Walker: I think the biggest piece of advice I’ve gotten since I’ve been here comes from Coach Vigilante. He always tells me, “Walker, just keep smiling, just keep smiling,” and that simplifies everything. There’s always something to smile about somewhere and it really helps me get through, whether it’s a work out, school, anything, it always helps.

Question: The women’s team just won its second NCAA Regional title in three years and has earned an automatic berth into the NCAA Championships for the third-straight year. How does it feel to have contributed to such an important win in just your first year?
Walker: It was so exciting. I remember coming down the backstretch of this past race and I actually got goose bumps. It felt so good to know that I wasn’t doing it for myself; I was doing it for all of the other girls that were with me.

In a race you always have thoughts like “Oh man, this hurts.” But in our race this weekend, I thought, “This is for my team, for my family and we can do this.” All of us came together at the finish line; it was the coolest thing ever.

Question: Did you know right away that you had won the team title?
Walker: We had a pretty solid finish, so we were all pretty excited. Then when coach told us that we had won it, we were really excited.

Question: What are you most excited about for the upcoming NCAA Championships?
Walker: I don’t even know what to expect because I’ve never been to something that big, so it’s really hard to fathom, especially as a first year. But I know that I’m going to do my best for my team and for my coach. I’m going to have fun and keep smiling.

Question: Do you feel the upperclassmen have prepared you for the meet?
Walker: In a way, they just want to keep Ariel [Karabinus] – the other first year in the race – and myself calm and relaxed. You run your best when you don’t know what to expect, so they’ve told us to just run. So we’ll try our best to do what we do.

Question: Being from Northern Virginia, when did you decide you wanted to come to Virginia?
Walker: I had always wanted to come to UVa. It’s not only our state school, but it’s a big deal to be here. Ever since I was little I wanted to come here, but I never really thought I’d make it, so it’s almost a dream come true. Just being here and seeing that I made it is really exciting.

Question: When did you start competitively running?
Walker: I ran all through high school. I started my freshman year when I was on the indoor team. I didn’t really start “going for it” until my senior year though. I thought I might as well give it a shot. Things worked out for me and I am really excited to have gotten a chance to run here. It’s a dream come true.

Question: As a distance runner, you are able to compete in cross country and indoor and outdoor track. Do you have a favorite season or event?
Walker: I just like running. I love everything about it. Coach could tell me to run a 400m and I would do it, but it’s probably not preferred. I would rather run the longer distances. Honestly, when it comes down to it, I’m just happy to be here and I love running. Whatever I do as long as I’m running works for me.

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