The Morningside College women’s cross country team has a sense of urgency this week.
The Mustangs women — along with at-large qualifier Connor Ritz — are stepping away from the outdoor track and field season to compete in the NAIA cross country meet in Cedar Rapids’ Seminole Valley course at 10:30 a.m. Friday.
It’s the first time in six months in which the cross country student-athletes will be competing.
Dordt University is sending both of its teams there, too, and the two GPAC schools are eager to compete in unprecedented territory.
“We’re excited, and people are talking about having a cross country meet in a track season, but we’re fired up,” Morningside coach David Nash said. “No one has any idea what will happen. We’re going to go there and tackle our expectations. This is going to be something we’ll always remember, so hopefully we’ll make some good memories.”
There was a cross country season during the fall, and it ended with the GPAC meet on Nov. 7 in Yankton.
The Defenders finished first in the team standings with 27 points while the Mustangs edged Northwestern by one point to claim the No. 2 spot in the conference. The top-two teams from each conference received automatic bids.
On that day, Kristine Honomichl finished in third place, turning in a time of 18 minutes, 56 seconds.
Emalee Fundermann finished in sixth place overall with a time of 19:17.29. She also received a medal for placing in the top-10.
The Mustangs had four runners who placed in the top-30, and that’s what clinched the bid over the Red Raiders.
The Mustangs arrived in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday to prepare for the meet, and practiced at the national course to get a feel for what it brings.
The course is well-known across the state, as it also has hosted several Iowa high school state-qualifying meets, especially in Class 1A and 4A.
Morningside is ranked 21st heading into the meet, led by Honomichl, Fundermann and fellow MVAOCOU High School grad Jo McKibben.
The focus, however, hasn’t been cross country. It’s been track and field. The runners who have qualified for the national meet will miss out on Friday’s Red Raider Open in Orange City.
The women have had mixed feelings about missing an outdoor meet, but they also see the opportunity to compete on a national stage.
“It’s more of a sense of urgency,” Nash said. “If our next chance is bad weather — what are we missing with this new opportunity? There is a little bit of anxiety getting everything in. The NAIA gave us this opportunity, and we’re excited about it.
“There is a pro and con with everything,” Nash added. “Our team is really heavy on middle distance, and it may affect some other teams more than others. For us, it’s a little bit of a bigger deal.”
Nash made one thing clear, however: He wants to give the seniors on the team — Sioux Center’s Payton Boer, Fundermann, Mace Moore and Ritz, a Bishop Heelan grad — the best experience possible.
After all, it is a national cross country meet.
“Any complaints can stick in someone’s memory, so we want to embrace this and have a blast,” Nash said.
Ritz is competing in his third straight national meet. He has placed in the top-200 in his previous two appearances. He is seeking to become the program’s first All-American since 2013.
Dordt building recent momentum
Defenders coach Nate Wolf wasn’t afraid to send his distance runners out on the indoor track this spring.
That decision worked out, as Dordt’s men’s team ended up becoming national runner-up during the indoor season.
“I’m glad we did the indoor season,” Wolf said. “You look at a guy like Eric Steiger. We trained him at the end of the season for the mile and (distance medley relay). We needed the DMR at national indoors, and we needed it when it came down to it. Eric ran a 4:16 mile to anchor us. We needed that for us to get a trophy. That’s all worth it.”
Wolf also pointed out George-Little Rock grad Joe Anderson as a runner who has emerged this season through experience.
Anderson wasn’t able to have an outdoor track season last year due to COVID, so he had to learn a lot over the indoor season.
Anderson turned around to record a personal best a few weeks ago at Grand View’s meet.
The Defenders men are ranked seventh, and the expectation for Wolf could include a top-5, but since this is an uncommon meet, Wolf isn’t sure where to pinpoint the expectations.
Davis Tebben and Franklin Reinders are the top-2 runners for the Defenders.
“That pack depth is really important,” Wolf said. “The team is the same team that we ran in the fall, but experience is going to help us a little bit.”
The Defenders women are young, but they’re gaining valuable experience. For example, freshman Taylor Anema is coming off an individual conference championship in the cross country season.
During the indoor season, Anema was the GPAC indoor champion in the 5,000 meters, and the runner-up behind Eden Winslow in the 3,000.
Winslow then missed All-American status in the 3,000 by one spot.
“They’ve been able to generate some momentum, but I’m not sure it has anything to do with this fall,” Wolf said. “Taylor’s indoor season was really helpful for her.”
The Defenders will be without Jordan DeGroot for Friday’s race, however. She finished fourth in the conference XC meet.
Not having her will force the back end of the Dordt lineup to try to pack with Winslow and Anema.
Wolf doesn’t expect the back end of the lineup to keep up with the team’s top-two runners at the start of the race, but he wants them to be within 45 seconds of them.
“I think we’ll have more depth on the back end of the scoring back, but how close can they get to the top-2 girls? We need the Nos. 4 and 5 to step up.,” Wolf said. “Maybe those girls are a little farther back. If we can be 45 seconds back of Nos. 2 through 5, I think we’re going to have a chance to have a really good day.”
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