No. one ranking motivates cross country women; men hope to surpass expectations

Brooke Kinney

Augustana’s cross country teams have high goals this season as they look to compete at the Division I level at the Roy Griak Invitational, place both teams first at the NSIC Championships, and bring home trophies from NCAA Nationals again.

The Viking women are currently ranked first in the nation, according to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association preseason poll. Head cross country coach Tracy Hellman believes the ranking will help to motivate the women’s team to stay focused all season.

“We have a veteran group of women who have experienced running in big meets and big competitions… and that gives them the confidence to race well,” Hellman said.

Senior Runa Falch is leading the women’s team this season. Receiving the NSIC Athlete-of-the-Week title for placing first at the Augustana Twilight meet late August, Falch says she has strong personal goals this season. “I have never felt stronger in a cross season, so I have high expectations,” Falch said.

Falch agrees with Hellman as viewing the ranking as a catalyst for this season. “Being ranked number one in the nation is a huge motivation, and if we all manage to stay healthy, we are ready to bring home another trophy,” Falch said.

Seniors Kyle Blakeslee, Leah Black, Annie Pfiefle and Molly Kokesh, along with juniors Kristin Brondbo and Falch are motivated to have a repeat season.

“Our senior group is very talented and fit,” Hellman said. “[They] should continue to get better each week.”

The cross country men were ranked fourth in the preseason poll, but sophomore Adam Braun says the team feels they can surpass expectations. “The way our team is coming together in our workouts and training is truly something to be feared by the other teams,” Braun said.

Hellman agrees. “The fitness level is the best we’ve ever had,” Hellman said, referring to the men’s team. When championship season rolls around, it could be a dogfight for who gets a spot on the 12-man conference and seven-man national teams. With strong returning seniors Travis Beniak, Tom Karbo, Ryan Evans, and Jordan Slusser hoping to end their careers on a high note, they’ll have to compete against juniors Paul Yak and Henrik Hansson and sophomores Adam Braun, Shane McCallum and TJ Gleason.

Yak received the NSIC Athlete-of-the-Week after the Augustana Twilight meet and is dubbed as the preseason athlete-of-the-year. Hellman says nothing would surprise him about Yak’s ability to perform this season.

“He has the ability and the fitness to be one of the best runners in Division II,” Hellman said. “All in all, the men’s team could be pretty scary when we get to championship time.”

The NSIC Conference meet will be Oct. 20 and the NCAA Regional and Championship tournaments will be at the beginning of November.

Next up for both teams is the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis on Sept. 29.

Braun is ready for the difficult competition. “I believe the men’s team is incredibly capable and ready to race against the DI schools,” Braun said. “We all feel ready to compete at that level.”