National podium finish caps off historic cross country seasons

National podium finish caps off historic cross country seasons
The team and their supporters celebrate with both national trophies.

The men’s and women’s cross country teams finished third and fourth respectively at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships. The race, which took place Nov. 20 in Leo, Florida, marked the completion of a historic season for the Vikings.

“To finish with not only [one] team on the podium, but both teams, made for a very special ending to a very special year,” director of track & field/cross country Tracy Hellman said. “With both teams winning conference, regionals, and top four at Nationals, this season will be one         to remember.”

The women’s championship performance was their best since 2012. Junior Megan Means finished first for the team and eighth overall, completing the 6K course with a time of 20:46. Juniors Nicolette Schmidt and Patty Jo English finished 19th and 24th overall, respectively, followed by sophomore Mia Salas and senior Rachel Rairdon, who both placed in the top 40. The women finished with an average time of 21:14.

First-year student Ryan Hartman finished 22nd overall for the men with a 31:04 time in the 10K.

The race presented a different level of competition for the Vikings. “In the other meets we were the major favorites going into it. However, for nationals we were ranked 4th,” said Hartman. “It is always a challenge to get on the podium…so the team was focused and locked in more than any other meet.”

Henry Klitzke and Austin Miller followed Hartman, finishing 36th and 47th overall. The men averaged 31:42 on the 10K course.

A key strategic goal for the teams was properly executing the beginning of the race. High stakes meets require runners to get into a good position early on, but the pressure can also lead athletes to go out too fast.

“We’ve practiced [starts] all year and executed it really well,” said Alec Kray, who finished seventh for the men. “After that, it’s about winning small battles, especially late in the race. We had several guys on the team who moved up 10+ spots in the last mile.”

Another goal was pushing challenging sections of the Florida course: “One thing we wanted to execute was staying focused on the uphills and stretches that were difficult,” said Hartman. “[We] passed many other competitors on these stretches. “

Several members of the team who weren’t competing travelled to Florida to cheer on their teammates. “The pageantry of the NCAA National Meet is unlike any other meet of the year,” said Hellman. “We had a huge support group that traveled down to Nationals, so that made the atmosphere that much better.”

In addition to placing first at both the conference and regional meets, this season fourteen runners also achieved USTFCCCA All-Region honors for the Central Region, the most of any program in the nation. Next up for the Vikings distance team is indoor track, with the first meet in early December.

“Our fall cross country success should act as a springboard going forward—we have exciting potential with both men and women heading into track,” said Hellman.