Amidst rain, a muddy and torn up course and some of the coldest weather this season, the Loras College cross country teams shined bright at the Iowa Conference Championships. The men and women swept the varsity races on their home course this weekend, and the men’s junior varsity won their own title.
This was a special day for the women’s team, especially because it was the first time the Duhawks won the Conference Championship in the school’s team history.
Leading the team was senior Maggie Saenz Ruiz with a dominant second place overall finish. However, one of the better performances throughout the entire women’s field came from first-year Audrey Miller. She finished second on the team and sixth overall, which is the highest she’s finished this season.
“I was nervous the morning of, but once we got onto the course, I felt much more at ease,” Miller said about her race.
Miller missed the first home meet this year because she and the rest of varsity competed at the UW-Oshkosh invite the same weekend to get a sample of the national course. Coach Shultz planned for that, and the team practiced at the soccer complex a handful of times before the meet.
“Our mile repeats during practice [there] really helped me mentally during the race. Every time we began another loop around the complex, I told myself that the race was starting over again, just like the mile repeats.”
In regards to the weather, Miller only disapproved of the cold.
“The worst moment of my race was probably right before the gun went off, when we had to take off our sweats. But logically, the faster we run, the sooner we get warm. So, that was my plan: run fast to warm up.”
And that she did. At the 2nd mile, she had moved up 22 places from where she was 600 meters in, placing herself just inside the top 10 at the ninth position. Miller played a large role in the women clinching their title, and she’s glad the team can enjoy the success together.
“It’s exciting to do well,” she said, “but it’s even more exciting when your team does well. Coach Schultz really stresses that we should run for the team and not for ourselves. I don’t know how I ever managed to luck out and join such an amazing group of runners right as we earned our first-ever women’s cross country conference championship title!”
Coach Schultz and his assistants often give a quote of the day at practices, and a few of them often mention the gift of running. Miller took those quotes to heart.
“Running is such a gift, especially since there are people out there who don’t have the luxury of using their legs. I try to run my races with those people in mind.” She was also thankful for all the spectators out there.
“There was such a great turnout for the races! It was impossible not to have fun when everyone is cheering for the Duhawks. The energy was absolutely electrifying, especially in the finishing stretch.”The men had a special day as well, winning back to back Conference titles. This is a feat that has been on the minds of the athletes all year, but there was a lot of worry after graduating many All-Conference and All-Regional runners. The team shut down those worries after their performance Saturday. The Duhawks went second, third and fourth in the race: sophomore Timothy Sevcik, senior John Paul Sevcik and sophomore Mason Tope respectively.
This was an incredible feat, but what helped secure the victory for the team was the performances of junior Ben Hedges and first-year Jack Carroll. Hedges has only broken into the top seven once this year, so to finish as the team’s fifth man meant the race of a lifetime.
“I still can’t put into words my race yesterday. Everything that has happened since the gun went off has just been surreal,” said Hedges. He went on to say that he couldn’t have done it alone: “I’m so grateful for all of my teammates who toed the line with me yesterday, because without every one of them pushing me to be better, I don’t know if it would have been possible. That being said… I’m very happy with my race, grateful for my teammates and thankful for my coaches every step of the way.”
When asked about the course conditions, he said to call the course “wet and muddy is putting it incredibly nicely.” When asked about the difference between the performances of his team and the other teams, he said, “I would make the argument that our course is the hardest course in the IIAC, and Dubuque is the hardest place to train. The real difference between us and the other teams in the conference was the mentality we took in the race. We saw the rain and the hills and saw our chance to work together, to move forward in a race where time didn’t matter.”
“Something [that] can’t be ignored is our lack of an indoor track. After a few runs in -10 degree weather, you become pretty jaded to ‘bad’ weather,” he added.
Carroll was also pleased with his race. “I felt better than I have during [other races],” he said, “mainly due to the tapering.”
This was one of the smallest meets the Varsity has seen this year, so the team felt the proximity of their opponents.
Carroll said, “The competition was certainly tough. Central came out swinging, and so did Luther and Wartburg.”
Carroll’s goal for the race was to become an All-Conference runner, which is the top 15 runners. He said, “To finish 9th in these conditions without ever racing on the course before was awesome.”
When asked about what these results mean for him and the team, Carroll responded, “I’m using these results as motivation. We know that Central, Luther, and Wartburg will come out strong again at Regionals, as well as other teams in the region like St. Olaf and St. Thomas. For regionals, I want to be able to stick with [the front pack] for longer and be able to beat the two Central and Luther guys that finished right ahead of me.”
On top of the team’s thoughts on the race, recent alum Adam Varnas had a comment on the meet.
“Our team looked at the weather this weekend, accepted it and raced with a passion that none of the other teams really had. Especially the men’s team. After the women’s race and results, the men took that energy and raced with heart. I think that was a major factor in the race.”
The Duhawks have a weekend off before they head to Central College in Pella for the NCAA Regional meet.