By Taylor Muller, Athletic Communications Assistant
YANKTON, S.D. – Competing in the Mount Marty Invite in Yankton, S.D., the Bulldogs took advantage of the first relatively flat course of the season and made significant improvements. The weather conditions were nearly perfect as both teams got a taste of where they stood in the GPAC team filled meet.
After a disappointing 17th place finish two weeks ago in the NAIA Preview Meet, the women bounced back well with a solid fourth-place finish among 17 teams, knocking off GPAC rivals Hastings, Morningside, Northwestern, Mount Marty and Briar Cliff.
With a 17th-place overall finish, freshman Emily Sievert led the Bulldog pack with a time of 19:10. Sophomore Jordyn Sturms placed second for the team in 19:40. Junior Megan Burma was next in 19:50 with junior Kim Wood and freshman Lauren Wilcox not far behind in 19:54 and 20:08 respectively.
“I thought they did much better today,” head coach Kregg Einspahr said of the women’s performance. “They made some good progress and are making some strides. I thought we had a good race today, I thought we competed well.”
Sturms shared similar insight, but also mentioning that while the team performed much better, there is still room for improvement.
“I think the team competed really well and did their best,” Strums said. “I think we still can improve as we get going. I think we need to work on working together during the race and even in practice and pushing each other to keep doing our best.”
Sturms explained the difference makers in her race, commenting on her mental attitude as well as the layout of the course.
“The course definitely helped being flatter,” Sturms said. “I talked to Megan before (the race) about running with her, and I think that really helped me a lot during the race to push myself. During practice, we’re competitive but still encouraging and that helps to improve.”
On the men’s side, it was senior Ben Sievert pacing the Bulldogs to a sixth-place team finish with his overall individual effort of eighth place in 25:46. Junior Jordan Potrzeba was next in line for Concordia, crossing the line in 26:35. Senior Josh Allwardt took third for the team in 26:58, while freshman Kohlton Gabehart and junior Taylor Mueller were on his heels in 27:00 and 27:01, respectively.
The Bulldogs cohesively put together their best team performance of the season thus far, however, they were outgunned by GPAC opponents Morningside, Northwestern and Dordt, teams that they will need to focus on when it comes time for the GPAC conference meet on Sept. 8 in Mitchell, S.D.
“We’re making progress on the guy’s side,” Einspahr said. “We got beat by a couple conference schools that we certainly want to beat. We got edged out by Dordt by three points and Northwestern by 27 so we have some work to do with that. I think we had a good race and we’re making some good progress.”
Despite the better team performance, Potrzeba acknowledged the areas that still need work for the men to top their GPAC competitors.
“I thought we ran fairly well,” Potrzeba said. “We got good position at the beginning. Unfortunately we just didn’t hold it in miles two, three and four, that’s kind of been our trouble. Overall, we ran pretty well. We never want to lose to a conference team by three points, but we’ll get there.”
“We just need to have confidence to hold our position in miles two, three and four,” Potrzeba said. “That’s where we’ve been losing a lot of ground. We just need to stay strong and just go with them. We tend to get passed in those miles and we just let them go. We need to run strong and we need to run as a pack.”
Now, with the regular season concluded, all eyes are on the GPAC meet, with NAIA qualifying implications on the line.
“The conference championship in just about every sport in the GPAC is just a war and track and cross country in particular since all the conference schools are all out in one place at the same time,” Einspahr said. “It’s a knock-down, drag-out fight. It comes down to the teams that are the most competitive and are best prepared on that day. A lot of that is coaching, some of that is grit by the athletes who come out with determination in terms of what they want to get accomplished.”
A first place finish at the conference meet will ensure a trip to Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan., for the national meet. A top 25 ranking following the conference meet could potentially nudge the Bulldogs in, but nothing is guaranteed in that respect.
“I think we’re doing a lot of good things in terms of the early parts of the race,” Einspahr said. “We need to work on the middle and finish still, probably for both the programs. If we can make some progress in those areas I think we can have a good meet.”
“I’m excited for GPAC to see what we all can do,” Sturms said. “Hopefully we’ll all keep improving and have our best race in a couple weeks.”