Cross-country teams ready for postseason
Tracy Hellman sees parallels between his current men’s cross-country team and the group he had in 2013.
Augustana won the Roy Griak Invitational at the University of Minnesota Sept. 24, its first Griak title since 2013.
The Vikings competed at the Chili Pepper Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark. against a handful of teams they will compete for a national championship against, should they advance that far. They did that in 2013, too.
Augustana also hosted the conference and regional meet that season, something they will do this year.
The men finished third at nationals in 2013, their highest finish ever. Hellman and his runners not only hope to match that, but they believe they have a pretty good chance to top it.
“There are these eerie similarities,” Hellman said of this year and the 2013 season.
The cross-country postseason begins Oct. 22 as both the men’s and women’s teams host the NSIC Championships at Yankton Trail Park before Augustana again hosts the Central Region Championships two weeks later.
The Viking men are in search of their eighth straight conference title; the women will try to win their eighth in the last 10 years. The men will also vie for their fifth consecutive region championship.
The seventh-ranked men have a national championship in sight, but they must first take care of business. The team has grown accustomed to conference wins, but it never gets old.
“It’s still really cool,” senior Glen Ellingson said. “It still feels awesome when we do it.”
Augustana can afford the luxury of training somewhat hard ahead of conference because of the relative lack of competition.
“We’ll sort of train [hard] through conference, but you have to be ready for the competition,” senior Keegan Carda said. “You need to be ready on the day that you race, but there are obviously bigger goals at the end of the season.”
Hellman said the choice between easing up for conference and continuing to train for nationals, which is still five weeks away, is a delicate balance.
“You want to try to train through [conference,] but you also want to ensure that you don’t look past it, either,” he said. “We try to focus on getting mentally prepared, but yet we don’t slow down in our training. We might go in a little fatigued or tired, but mentally, we’re really ready to compete.”
The trip to Fayetteville gave the Vikings an idea of how they stack up against some of the top teams in the nation. They finished third behind No. 3 Colorado School of Mines and No. 6 Colorado State-Pueblo. Hellman liked what he saw.
“We are running better at this point in the year, matching up to the [nation’s] top teams, than we have before,” he said. “I feel really confident.”
His runners also think it bodes well for the future.
“We always perform better than our ranking [at nationals],” Ellingson said. “That’s how we train. Other teams get to a point and plateau.”
“We literally build until nationals,” senior Nathan Hauge added. “We don’t peak before. We always have our best races at nationals.”
Ellingson and Hellman both said that a handful of teams have a chance to win the national title. There’s no clear-cut favorite as there has been in the past.
Women face uphill battle
While the men appear to be a lock for wins at conference and regionals, things are less clear on the women’s side.
The Vikings will face stiff competition from No. 3 University of Mary and No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth.
The Marauders and Bulldogs will also likely be in the top-4 teams at the 34-team regional meet, leaving two spots for the Vikings and a few other squads, Hellman said.
A lot of it will depend on whether Hellman decides to pull redshirts from Leah Seivert and Annie Kruse, the Vikings’ top-two runners, he said. Augustana has a young core and could benefit from that core gaining experience while saving a year of eligibility for Seivert and Kruse.
“If they run for the team, our team is completely different,” Hellman said. “We still have to decide if that’s the best for the future of the program … It’s a hard thing as a coach. You never know what the future will bring.”
Sophomore Mackenzie Kelly and freshman Alana Sesow have led Augustana in Seivert and Kruse’s absence.
Hellman said he’s confident in his women’s team even if Seivert and Kruse don’t run. The Vikings have shown improvement recently, and there are still three weeks until the Central Region meet.
“A lot can happen in three weeks,” Hellman said. “Regardless, it’s going to be tight. We’re either just going to barely make it, or we’ll be on the outside looking in.”