XC LOOKS FOR NATIONAL TITLES

Megan Raposa

mlraposa11@ole.augie.edu

On the road to nationals, family matters.

The Augustana cross country team is a family. Whether it’s the women’s team carving the mascots of other teams into pumpkins and then smashing them, or the men’s team drinking eggnog and running until they vomit, these teammates stick together.

“We are probably the closest group of guys on campus,” senior Travis Beniak said. “Everyone goes through it together.”

As both the men’s and women’s teams head to the national championship this weekend in Joplin, Mo., the teams are closer than ever.

“There’s this deeper bond that you get when you have to get up early and work out with people … I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” senior Annie Pfeifle said.

The men’s team became especially close on their trip to the regionals meet, when they got the news that the father of one of their teammates died.

“We rescheduled workouts so we could go to the funeral,” sophomore Adam Braun said. “The family aspect we have on our team is very unique.”

The cross country family shares both the hard times and the victories.

Both teams have seen success this season as they took first place in the conference and swept regionals.

The women’s team took the regional title for the first time in Augie history, and the men’s team won for the first time since 1991. With this momentum, the teams are hoping to prove their strength at nationals.

“It’s a big climax for a long buildup,” Beniak said.

Beniak, along with junior Runa Falch for the women’s team, was recently awarded the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Region Athlete of the Year for the central region for their outstanding individual performances. Despite both individual and team successes, Braun feels that Augustana is not always recognized as a legitimate contender.

“We are very, very underrated, I think,” Braun said. “We’re hoping to win to put Augie on the map, and to show them that the girls team [winning nationals] wasn’t a fluke last year and the guys are a legitimate team.”

Braun has no doubt in the abilities of his team, though. He feels confident that both the men and women have a legitimate shot at winning nationals.

“I’m excited,” Braun said. “[Nationals] is all I’ve been able to think about for the last two weeks.”

The course for nationals is the same course the team raced at regionals only a few weeks ago. Facing familiar territory will provide a “huge advantage” for the runners, according to Beniak.

Even with the advantage of knowing the track, getting ready for nationals involves much mental preparation, Pfeifle said.

The team does not go out of their way to do challenging workouts in the days before the meet.

“We are just trying to stay healthy, getting in a few more workouts, and figuring out our racing plans as a team,” junior Paul Yak said.

“I expect at the end of the day that Augie cross country will be [bringing] national championships back to Augie.”