Men’s cross-country sets sights on NCAA title; women aim for top-15 nationally
Tracy Hellman said his women’s cross country team has a chance to place top-15 at the national meet this season, which is pretty good on its face.
Then the Augustana head coach revealed that he thinks the women’s team is in rebuilding year.
It’s a testament to how far the cross-country programs have come under Hellman’s direction. The men’s team had won only one conference title and one region championship before Hellman took over in 2000, while the women had no hardware.
In 16 years under Hellman, the women have a national championship, seven conference titles and one region crown. The men have won seven NSIC championships and four Central Region titles.
So while the women are focused on “rebuilding,” the No. 12 team in the nation, the sixth-ranked men have the ultimate prize—a national championship—on their minds.
“They have the mindset that that’s what they want to do,” Hellman said. “But I don’t think they carry any pressure. If we can stay healthy, I think they can do great things. I think we’re in a good position right now.”
Two-time All-American senior Glen Ellingson backed up that sentiment.
“One thing we really emphasized at team camp was, we are striving to win [it all], but we won’t be disappointed if we don’t,” said Ellingson, who admitted that a finish outside the top-four would not be satisfying.
Leading the way for the men’s team are a group of fifth-year seniors: Ellingson, Keegan Carda, John Klecker and Nathan Hauge. Carda and Hauge join Ellingson as the team’s three All-Americans as Klecker returns to competition after donning a medical redshirt last season.
Hellman feels fortunate to have such a veteran group to lead a talented group of underclassmen that includes Jesus Urtusuastegui (sixth at Augustana Twilight), Nate Souther (10th), Skylar DeJong (12th) and Nathan Schroeder (28th).
“You can’t coach experience, man,” Hellman said. “It’s great. I don’t have to worry about them. … They know what’s needed to be successful.”
The women may be without their top two runners in juniors Leah Seivert, a two-time All-American, and Annie Kruse, who was an All-American two years ago.
Hellman said both runners will have five-year academic careers, so they may use a redshirt as the team looks toward the future. In the meantime, Seivert and Kruse train with the team and compete unattached. Hellman will make a decision on the pair in mid-October, he said.
“We’re talented, we’re just not as deep as our past teams,” Hellman said of the women. “We’ve got some young girls that haven’t had the experience yet, but I see great things for the future. … We’re trying to decide if it’s in the best interest of [Seivert and Kruse] and the team to run this year, or maybe to get ready for future years.”
Losing two All-Americans might devastate some programs, but not this one.
“I think it shows how dedicated the coaches are to focusing on each athlete on our team,” Seivert said. “They do what is best for each of us so we can all improve. That leads to a strong team all-around. So if some of us [are redshirting], we can still be successful against the top teams in the nation. Not many programs can say that.”
Seivert said she has confidence in sophomore Mackenzie Kelly as the team’s No. 1 runner should Seivert and Kruse redshirt. Kelly placed seventh at Twilight.
The Vikings compete Saturday for the first time in three weeks when they travel to the University of Minnesota for the Roy Griak Invitational. From there, Augustana will race only one more time before the postseason begins with the NSIC Championships at Yankton Trail Park in Sioux Falls.
That’s just three regular season meets, which Hellman said is normal for the top programs.
“We really try to teach them the essence of training,” Hellman said. “Our upperclassmen help our young kids understand the reason. … It’s hard for some young kids, but I think our older kids actually really enjoy the long periods of training. You have time to put in work.”
Hellman has fans of that strategy in Ellingson and Seivert.
“I consider each workout day a race in a way,” Ellingson said. “[Workouts are] almost as engaging as a race if you do it right.”
Seivert said the grind helps the team stay close.
“We are there together doing hard workouts each week,” she said. “I think that time of pain together helps us to stay motivated. We encourage each other through the ups and downs.”