The Augustana cross-country team has wasted no time in proving their strength this season. Last weekend, both the men and women’s teams dominated the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) in St. Paul, Minn.
“The cross team performed extremely well,” senior Travis Beniak said. “Both teams had individuals step up and make huge contributions to the team that weren’t necessarily expected, but were definitely welcome.”
The women won their conference title for the sixth straight year, with the last five being in the NSIC, and the men won their fourth.
Individually runners also finished at the top of the competition. Junior Paul Yak finished first overall for the second year in a row, followed closely by Beniak and sophomore Adam Braun who placed second and third respectively. Augie men placed five out of the top seven runners.
Women took four of the top five and five of the top 10 individual spots, with senior Leah Black leading the pack in second place. Close behind, finishing third, fourth and fifth respectively, were seniors Runa Falch, Kristin Brondbo and Annie Pfeifle.
“I love running as a pack,” Black said. “When there’s like four or five Augie girls running in the front, you get excited. People see four [girls] with the same uniforms running together, and people see that that team is strong.”
After winning nationals last year, the women’s team is looking to keep up their momentum. They have maintained their position as the first-ranked team nationally all season. The men are also working to finish the season on a high note.
Despite their success this year, the teams still have work to do. Before the national championship, they have to qualify at regionals and cut their team from 12 runners to seven.
“This is a hard time emotionally,” Beniak said. “We can’t let it separate the team, as everyone who is a part of Augustana cross-country plays an integral role in our success.”
Twice each week, the men and women train together as they work toward their goals for the meets.
“Before our next meet, we need to do some sharpening,” Pfeifle said. “This will help us shift gears near the end of the race. We’ll do some workouts that have some more speed components to help with this.”
The teams will continue to train together under the leadership of coach Tracy Hellman, who was awarded the NSIC Coach of the Year for both teams.
“Tracy is a great coach, and he really has figured out his training plan,” Black said. “Conference was a great success, but we are all focused on nationals.”
Hellman has won Coach of the Year for four straight years, leading both cross-country teams to the top of the division each year.
“Overall, not a lot needs to change; we just need to keep working hard and keep our eyes on the prize,” Pfeifle said.