The men and women of Loras cross country have garnished high expectations early on in the season, as the men were ranked 12th in the nation and the women 30th in a preseason poll.
With six of the top seven runners returning for the men and five of the top seven returning for women, this season is looking especially promising for the Duhawks. Coach Bob Schultz said both teams have the potential to make moves in the national poll. In the long term, he hopes to send both teams to Nationals and potentially earn the highest national finish in school history.
Offseason recruitment brought together a strong freshman class for both the men and women, as the men added 11 runners to the roster and the women added nine. The growth of the team is a great sign for the Duhawks. It builds strength and depth, which are key elements of strong teams.
The Elmhurst (IL) Earlybird Invitational gave returners the chance to get back into the racing mindset. It also gave the newcomers the opportunity to get a taste of college cross country and the competition that comes with it. The men finished second to the No. 1-ranked North Central team, which has won the NCAA Division III title 16 times. Other than North Central, the Loras men easily outpaced the third-place team in the 15-team race.
The women took the team title ahead of 13 other teams, finishing with 32 points.
A rather notable performance comes from sophomore Audrey Miller, who broke the course record by an astounding 47 seconds.
In the meeting Monday following the invitational, Schultz said he was encouraged and impressed by the performance the team had at the meet.
“Finishing five men in the top 15 and four women in the top 10 is exciting,” Schultz said.
The performance also gave the team an idea of where they can improve to become even better as the season progresses.
“Pacing and pack running is huge,” Schultz said when asked about things to improve on. “Our runners can’t get out too fast, and they need to pace off of each other. Nobody should be getting passed in the last mile.”
With Schultz now on his 12th year as coach, he is more optimistic than ever that he has the team capable of sweeping the Iowa Conference for the second year in a row and having the highest national finish in school history for both the men and the women.
Up next for the Duhawks is the National Catholic Championships hosted by Notre Dame. The top 15 runners from the men’s and women’s side will compete against some of the top programs in the country, as well as some from different divisions. The men will look to three-peat as champions, while the women look to improve upon their 11th-place finish at the Championships last season.