The Augustana men’s and women’s cross country teams finished 8th and 14th respectively at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championship in Evansville, Ind. on Nov. 18.
The men’s team garnered 326 points, earning their 10th top-ten finish in school history.
Junior Nick Larsen led the way with a time of 32:08.3, good for 50th place. Sophomore Aaron Runge finished shortly behind at 56th, while senior Logan Burns (90th), junior Sean Heaton (94th) and redshirt freshmen Alec Kray(104th) rounded out the squad.
The women’s team took 14th with 389 points, marking their 14th top-15 finish in school history.
Junior Mackenzie Kelly led the team finishing in 25th place with a time of 21:32.4, receiving All-American status for the first time in her career and becoming the 34th women’s cross country runner at Augustana to do so.
Junior Leah Seivert finished in 77th place, while senior Cassidy Soli (94th), sophomore Emily Tromp (120th), and freshman Claire Boersma (147th) concluded the race for the team.
Kelly says that she was happy to end the season with a strong performance.
“Going into nationals, there’s definitely more pressure than any other races,” Kelly said. “But it was one of my best races of the season and a great way to move forward.”
The Vikings went into this season inexperienced, with the only seniors being Burns for the men and Soli for the women.
Head coach Tracy Hellman said the inexperience tempered expectations for the season and the national meet, but the team performed well regardless.
“We are a young team, and it was a rebuilding year in a lot of ways,” Hellman said. “We had a lot of kids who had never been to nationals before, so going in I think we exceeded our expectations as to how our team performed. The team really handled the season and nationals really well, despite lacking the experience of the bigger stage.”
Assistant coach Scott Tanis said the inexperienced roster allowed the team to perform without too much pressure.
“I think it was a really fun year for everyone because we didn’t have too lofty of expectations,” said Tanis. “The guys team knew they weren’t going to be as good as last year because four of the top guys had graduated, so they went out and competed without the pressure of replicating that success. And the girls’ team, after facing so many setbacks last year, knew they would be better. They just didn’t know how better they would be.”
Tanis said that those expectations were exceeded throughout the year.
“It’s funny because at nationals, 8th place is definitely an achievement,” said Tanis. “If you had told me at the beginning of the season that the men would get 8th at nationals, I would’ve said ‘Oh yeah, we’ll take that for sure.’ Then we come out the year running really strong, and we were hoping to get 4th or 5th or 6th. 8th place is nothing to be disappointed about, and I think the fact that 4th place was even a possibility really says something about this team.”
Larsen said not knowing what to expect this season helped all the runners work harder throughout the year.
“Coming in, we didn’t really know what to expect,” said Larsen. “We raised the level of dedication and work in all aspects of our training. We pride ourselves in being a strong November team.”
Hellman and Tanis said the inexperience especially created uncertainty entering into nationals, because few of the runners on the roster had competed on the national stage before.
“There’s no real way to prepare a team that hasn’t been there to know what to expect,” Tanis said. “It’s not like at the conference meet, where you can be the best team in the race. At nationals, everybody is good and you have to come out so much harder and put your foot on the gas a lot more.”
Seivert said even though she had competed at nationals before, the intensity was still a game changer.
“You have to be there to really understand it,” Seivert said. “You are racing against the best teams in the country. I’ve been to multiple national competitions, and I still have the pre-race nerves at every one. I know that nerves are normal, so I remind myself to be confident in my preparation and just let it happen.”
With only two runners graduating and an experienced squad returning, the teams hope to improve in the coming years.
“Overall, we are a young team, but it never seemed to show,” said Larsen. “We never dwelled on the fact that a lot of us were inexperienced. We knew we had to put in the work. Now a lot of us have experience. This is a new generation of Augie cross country.”