On a blustery day in a large, open field in Manhattan, Kansas, a Flying WV flag waves proudly in the air. Near the flag pole, the West Virginia University Soils Team surveys the ground beneath its feet in preparation for the 2016 National Collegiate Soils Contest.
That pre-contest ground work, over a year of training, and plenty of academic discipline and determination helped the team bring home not one but two national titles.
Held April 2-8 at Kansas State University, the contest brought together over 90 students representing 23 colleges and university around the country.
The WVU team was led by Katie Stutler, a senior soil science major from Inwood, West Virginia, who placed first in the individual competition – earning 22 points more than the nearest competitor.
“I had no expectations of placing in the top individually as it was my very first national contest and only my second contest in total,” Stutler said. “When they called my name for first place, I was in complete shock. I jumped up without thinking and immediately hugged my teammates and coach. My heart was racing and it didn’t set in until I sat back down.”
At the individual level, WVU also had strong performances from Jimmy Leonard, a senior agroecology major from Middletown, Maryland, and David Ackley, a graduate student from Edon, Ohio, who placed 12th and 23rd, respectively.
Other team members include Emily Lessman, a senior soil science major from Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania, Cheyanne Conrath, a sophomore agricultural and extension education major from Petersburg, West Virginia, and Riley Biddle, who graduated in December 2015 with a degree in agronomy.
The team placed third in the group judging event and when results from both portions of the contest were combined, WVU was the clear winner.
“The overall team winner wasn’t announced until the end of the award ceremony, so I had to sit there and wait, which was the worst part,” Stutler said. “I was still so happy I had won individuals, but it wouldn’t have mattered if my team couldn’t celebrate winning with me. When they finally got to first place overall and called out West Virginia University, we all shot out of our seats, screamed and once again hugged our coach. It was pure excitement.”
This marks the second individual and overall national championship for the WVU team. Both previous championships came 10 years ago at the 2006 contest in San Luis Obispo, California.
Coach Jim Thompson, professor of soil science in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, is extremely proud of the young team’s accomplishments.
“While not the most experienced group of soil judgers compared to recent years, the members of the WVU Soils Team were quick learners and became adept at identifying the unique aspects of Kansas soils during four days of practice which, obviously, proved to be extremely valuable,” he said.
While seeing soil types for the first time always poses a variety of challenges, the one thing that didn’t? The 45-mile-per-hour winds.
“Luckily, winds do not interfere with a person’s ability to describe and interpret soils,” Thompson said.
Although Stutler agrees, she did note “the prairie doesn’t hold back.”
“We had papers flying away left and right,” she said. “I almost lost my favorite hat!”
During the weeklong trip the team was also able to relax and have fun. Members toured the Konza Prairie Biological Station, visited Mushroom Rock State Park in Marquette, Kansas, and indulged in regional barbeque.
They also bonded.
“We aren’t just a team,” Stutler said. “We are friends, and now we are family. I wouldn’t have wanted to win with any other team.”
CONTACT: Lindsay Willey, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
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