On Saturday, Oct. 27, the Duhawks traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska to the first-ever ARC cross country conference meet. With the addition of Nebraska Wesleyan two years ago, the name of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC) was no longer fitting and was ultimately changed to the American Rivers Conference. This was the first athletic year the new conference title has been used.
The race took place at Pioneer Park, an uncharacteristically hilly park for Nebraska. While many coaches in the ARC believed this course to be flat, the course held some surprises for the conference teams who attended the meet. No conference team—except for Nebraska Wesleyan—has ever been on this course. There were mixed feelings about the hills, with some Duhawks in favor of the terrain and others not as much. Coach Bob Schultz was in the latter category.
“I personally was not a fan of the course,” commented Schultz about the race location. “There were too many hazards that caused people to fall instead of just being able to race.”
However, the athletes weren’t as disappointed about the terrain. Compared to the Dubuque hills that Loras athletes are well-accustomed to, the Nebraska hills were not intimidating.
“Racing on hills was a huge benefit for our team,” junior Cole Conklin-Little said. “I like to think we do our toughest training on hills, so when we saw them, we knew we were more prepared than anyone else.”
The preview meet that was supposed to have been held in September was cancelled due to flooding on the course after powerful storms swept through the Midwest. However, all the remnants of this flooding were gone by the time conference took place, save for a few muddy patches and one giant puddle crossing the course at a low point. Regardless, it was much less muddy than pre-nationals where the Duhawks raced two weekends ago.
The first race of the day was the women’s race at 11 a.m. The temperature at race time was a perfect 60°F. The race strategy of the women’s team was to go through the first couple of miles in large groups or “flocks.” Unfortunately, due to a bottleneck-type narrowing of the course, the 132 women in the race were forced close together and the Duhawk “flocks” never received a chance to fully form. At the 3k, which is halfway through the race, Loras was in third with 93 points. By the time they reached the 6k, the women remained in third place but moved ahead to 83 points. While the first two teams (Nebraska Wesleyan and Wartburg) had fallen behind, points-wise, the Duhawks continued to move up. This is attributed to the smart racing strategy employed by Coach Bob Schultz, to speed up as the race progresses rather than start out too quickly and inevitably slow down towards the end of the race.
“I’m proud of our women for finishing third after coming into the meet ranked fourth,” Coach Bob Schultz said about the women’s race. “It’s our best finish since we won in 2015.”
There were two All-Conference finishes from the women’s team: first-year Kassie Rosenbum, who came in third with a time of 22:58, and senior Audrey Miller who came in 11th with a time of 24:17. First-year Emma Earles just missed the All-Conference honors with a 21st place finish, and following Earles were juniors Courtney Knight and Maeve Dunaway in 23rd and 25th, respectively. The winning time for the race was 22:25.
“I think my teammates would agree with me that conference was a tough course,” Dunaway said, who has battled injury for a long time, removing her from competition for the entire 2017 season. “However, I would say we definitely had a successful race. Injury prevented me from competing last year and coming back from injury has certainly not been easy, but it has made good races like this so much sweeter. It also helps remind me in the toughest part of the race how much I would have loved to be doing this a year ago and how blessed I am to be running for the Duhawks! I am very excited to see what we can do at regionals!”
After the women’s race, the men raced at noon. The men’s cross country team has historically been very successful, winning the last four years at the conference meet. Unfortunately, their attempt at a five-peat was not in the cards. The Duhawks came in second behind Wartburg.
“We knew we had an uphill battle to win our fifth consecutive championship,” Schultz said after the race. “Some of our guys raced well, but unfortunately it’s a team sport and to have a chance to win, we needed everybody racing well on Saturday.”
Crossing the line first for the Duhawks was junior Cole Conklin-Little, with a time of 26:53, placing him in ninth place overall and earning him All-Conference honors in a field of 175 runners. When asked about his race, Conklin-Little said his success came from the fact that he never settled during the race.
“When the race got tough, it was strung out perfectly for passing opportunities,” Conklin-Little said. “Most of the runners were around 10 meters apart from each other so the moment I passed one, settling in wasn’t on my mind; it was on to the next one. As I approached my teammates, Jack, Preston and Skeeter, I had to think about what I was going to say, so that made the race feel shorter than it was.”
In addition to Conklin-Little, two more Loras athletes received All-Conference honors: junior Patrick “Skeeter” Wolak, who came in 10th with a time of 26:57, and senior Preston Kauder, who came in 12th with a time of 27:02. Following the three top performers, senior Jack Carroll crossed the line in 18th with a time of 27:23 and junior Tyler Havens crossed in 20th with a time of 27:34. The winning time was 26:03.
Looking ahead to regionals on Saturday, Nov. 10, the teams are hoping to improve upon their performances at the conference meet. Regionals is the ticket to the national championships, so the Duhawks need to make some positive changes in Waverly on Nov. 10. Coach Schultz and his athletes are of the same mindset: to be successful, the “flocks” need to race together longer.
“Our team focus for the regional meet will be running together for longer, and in a large pack,” said Conklin-Little. “I am certain we have five guys that can run at a speed together that will test all our abilities and give us a result worth remembering. Finding that perfect speed will be the challenge.”