By Taylor Mueller, Athletic Communications Assistant
MITCHELL, S.D. – The cross country grind came to a close on Saturday, as both the men’s and women’s cross country squads competed in the season ending conference meet in Mitchell, S.D. The women finished fourth while the men placed fifth among the 11 GPAC institutions.
After an up and down season, the team was able to put together several strong performances and use a flat course to their advantage to put an exclamation point on their season.
“The women had their best race of the season, head coach Kregg Einspahr said. “They ran very well. We had a little bit of a gap between our four and five (runners). The top four runners really had great races today. I thought we had the firepower to finish in the top two, but we weren’t that far out of second, it was pretty close.”
Junior Kim Wood mustered up her best race of the season, placing 12th with all-conference honors, and crossing the line in 18:38.
“I was really happy with how I did,” Wood said. “I’ve been struggling this season, so to finally come out and have a race like this was a huge relief. I’m really happy, because putting in all those miles, it’s good to finally have a good race and see what I can do. At the same time it’s kind of disappointing to be a half second off of nationals, so mixed emotions, but just really happy with how I was able to get up and compete today.”
Einspahr was pleased to see one of his top runners return to form as well.
“Kim Wood came through with a very good race and did a great job,” Einspahr said. “Kim Wood has been practicing well and put it together here in the last race of the regular season. We’ll see if Kim gets a birth to the national championship.”
Filling in the rest of the top five was junior Megan Burma in 18:57, freshman Emily Sievert in 19:05, sophomore Jordyn Sturms 19:14 and senior Erika Schroeder 19:46.
Wood was proud of her team’s performance, and was glad that they were able to pull together one final time.
“I think we did really well as a team,” Wood said. “I know some people weren’t happy with how they did, but I guess that always happens at the end of the season. It’s hard to always end the way you want to. A lot of people (got personal records) and that was really exciting. I think we just went out and fought hard and that’s what we’ve needed. We didn’t always to that this season, so it was really nice to go out this way.”
“It’s a good feeling to have our best race of the season at the conference championship,” Einspahr said. “It’s a very young team. We’ll have the top four back. I thought we made some really good strides during the season and we’ve got a lot to look forward to down the road.”
On the men’s side, Senior Ben Sievert punched his ticket to the national meet for the fourth-consecutive time with his fourth place overall finish in 25:17.
“Ben had a very good race, Einspahr said. “He ran very smart and competed very well.”
In a close race that was highly competitive until the bitter end, Sievert commented on the excitement of the big race as well as the heightened intensity.
“It was a really fun race to run,” Sievert said. “There was a big pack up front for the whole race and that just made it really fun. There were a lot of guys jostling for the lead, taking the wind, kind of falling back a little bit but still holding onto the pack. It was just a real fun race from a runner’s standpoint and I’m sure from a spectator’s as well.”
“Going with about a mile left, there were still about ten guys up front who were in position to win it,” Sievert said. “It was pretty nerve racking too, being up front, because with the new changes to the automatic qualifying I was just like, ‘I need to stay in the top four, just go for the win and make sure that I was able to get that automatic qualifying time as well. I wasn’t able to win today which was a little bit of a bummer, but finishing fourth isn’t bad and I’m happy about it. I’ve just got to thank God for an awesome race today.”
Filling in behind their four-time all-conference captain was junior Jordan Potrzeba in 26:19, junior Taylor Mueller in 26:40, sophomore Chris Shelton in 26:48 and senior Josh Allwardt in 26:49.
“The guys ran about the way that we’ve been running all season,” Einspahr said. “We still had some pretty big gaps between our one and two and our two and three again. We didn’t put together the kind of race we had hoped to overall. Overall, I thought we had a pretty good race on the men’s side, but we’d like to finish a little bit better than we did. That’s something we’ll need to work on, and see if we can qualify for the national championships and compete for All-American honors again.”
Sievert added his own thoughts on the day’s turnout, as well as his emotions regarding his last race as a cross country runner at Concordia.
“Today didn’t quite go as we hoped,” Sievert said. “I think we were really hoping and thought we could finish second or third and so to finish fifth was a little bit of a disappointment. I know we’ve got some disappointed guys on the bus ride home right now. It’s been an awesome group of guys to run with and for some of my fellow seniors here, working with them for four years, they’ve just been awesome teammates and it just made the sport so much fun. They make coming to practice every day just a blast. While the season didn’t end like any of us were hoping, it’s been a really fun one and definitely something for the underclassmen to build on for next year.”
Sievert will look to end his story as a Bulldog with gusto, when he returns to Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan. to compete in the national meet. While he is looking forward to his final race, he admitted that he will need to be competitive and on top of his game.
“I’m really excited for nationals,” Sievert said. “Just to be able to make it for the fourth time is an awesome blessing. I would love to repeat as an All-American but it’s going to be tough. There’s a lot of new faces up front this year but that’s still going to be my goal. The Rim Rock course is really challenging. It’s a fun one to run on and it’s really scenic, it’s got some nice hills that make it a really fun course to run on.”
With the season now in the rearview mirror for a majority of the athletes, Einspahr talked about what made this season different, and tactical coaching decisions that he had to make.
“It was an interesting season,” Einspahr said. “We really worked to try and put together a good season for the men and women and I think we did that. It was a challenge to try and put the two teams together and get them trying to run well. I think they did a real good job of that and overall, had a real good season.”