Cross country’s strong showing at NSIC championships brings confidence heading into NCAA central regional
Two miles into senior Matt Steiger’s race at Wayne State College on Nov. 5, he ran ahead and overtook the first-place runner. Soon enough, he came running through the finishing tape with a time of 24:50.70.
This was Steiger’s first time breaking the tape as a Viking. His fellow athlete, junior Ryan Hartman, followed just eight seconds behind him. Steiger said he felt a great amount of happiness and accomplishment after crossing the finish line.
At the same competition, senior Nicolette Schmidt faced a hill that she knew was a challenge. Having run for the Vikings for six years, Schmidt had done this race before, and she made a goal to not struggle this time. When she made it to the top of the hill, she said she felt as if she had conquered something big.
As she crossed the finish line in fourth place with a time of 21:40.31, she turned to check on her teammates.
The hard work of Steiger, Schmidt and the rest of the team paid off, winning both the men’s and women’s NSIC titles for the second year in a row.
Steiger said taking home the NSIC title from the conference meet has become a sort of tradition for Augustana’s cross country team.
“Over the past decade or so, it has become the legacy of Augustana to perform well during champion time, so I am glad that we were able to carry on that tradition,” Steiger said.
Schmidt said that she’s proud of both her teammates and herself for their conference races.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” Schmidt said. “The women in the conference have stepped up this year. It was highly competitive, and I’m very proud.”
Head coach Tracy Hellman said he was also proud of the athletes for their hard work this season as they extend the legacy of NSIC wins.
“Our history of excellence is something that I am proud of,” Hellman said.
On top of the team’s NSIC win, freshman Erik Gundersen, an exchange student from Stavanger, Norway, also won the NSIC Newcomer of the Year award for his sixth-place time of 25:24.38. He said he is proud of the progress he’s made and his fitness level going into regionals on Saturday, Nov. 19.
“It’s the evidence that I’ve put in the work, that I’ve done a lot of things right, and that I’m going to continue to do more things right,” Gundersen said. “It’s a good indicator that, at the moment, my fitness is great and that I’m one of the best in the region.”
Although winning the award was the moment that has defined his season so far, it wasn’t his original goal.
“Even though I’ve got the award, it’s no time to relax,” Gundersen said. “It was a good test, but I still have to keep moving forward. My goal is to do well at nationals, so I have to keep pushing.”
Schmidt said she and her fellow athletes set goals at the beginning of the season at their annual camp in the Black Hills. This season’s goals are to be conference, regional and national champions.
“Even though I’ve been doing this [for six years], there is still more to give and more potential to tap into,” Schmidt said. “Try harder, work harder, do better.”
As fifth- and sixth-year athletes, Steiger and Schmidt said they’ve had to step into positions of leadership for new and returning underclassmen.
“The goal of any upperclassmen on Augustana’s cross country team is to uphold the amazing team culture that we have created so that we can see a perpetual increase in the program’s success,” Steiger said. “I hope that the younger guys can look up to me and see themselves in my shoes someday because that is how I saw the upperclassmen.”
Schmidt said she supports her team by being a positive leader and inspiring her teammates to keep striving for their goals. She is also proud of other underclassmen stepping into leadership roles as well.
“Being a leader is a whole different type of role,” Schmidt said. “There have been good leaders in the past, and I’ve tried to take what I’ve learned from them and emulate that the best that I can.”
Schmidt also said the team’s hard work this season has brought the group closer.
“Every season is different,” Schmidt said. “They each have their own challenges and exciting things that happen, but this year we’ve all gotten a lot closer and faced challenges together a lot more than we have in the past. Whether you’re having a good day or not, you still feel the same amount of support either way.”
The Vikings cross country team runs next for its regional meet in Joplin, Missouri at Missouri Southern State University on Saturday, Nov. 19.