Running on sacred ground

Lately, Mother Nature has not been on the side of the Loras country team. Two weekends ago, on Oct. 5, the annual Loras Invitational hosted at the Dubuque Soccer Complex was cancelled due to an excessive amount of standing water at the complex.  It was unfortunate, as many alumni, students, and families were planning on attending the meet, but necessary in order to preserve the soccer fields. Spikes worn by cross country athletes can quickly turn grassy fields into muddy terrain.

While the soccer complex was spared, the Lake Breeze golf course in Oshkosh, WI, was not. This flat, well-manicured golf course will be the site of the 2018 cross country national championship course on Nov. 17, and last weekend, UW-Oshkosh hosted a pre-nationals meet for Division III teams to preview the course. This meet took place the morning of Saturday, Oct. 13, with a total of 1569 athletes competing in six races: women/men’s varsity pre-nationals preview races, women/men’s open races, and women/men’s Oshkosh invitational races (6k and 8k, respectively). Similar to the situation that cancelled the home meet, the rainy weather from the past few weeks had left the course in a soft, swamped condition, which subsequently affected the races that followed.

The first race of the day was the women’s 6k varsity race. Due to melting frost on the course, the start time of this race was delayed by a half hour to allow the course to dry out before competition began. However, even a half hour wasn’t enough time. With a temperature of 45°F at the start of the race and limited opportunity for the course to dry out, by the time the women had taken one lap around the multi-lap course, the terrain had quickly become torn up and excessively muddy.

Junior Molly Macduff (from left) pushes the pace alongside sophomore Courtney Knight and first-year Brianna Renner.

The conditions were tough, but in the words of Dr. Elaina Biechler, honorary assistant coach of the cross country team: “You can’t call it cross country without a bit of mud on your face.”

Dr. Biechler’s words rang true on Saturday. With over 1500 runners tearing up a soft course, the ground was difficult to run on and slowed many people down—not just the Duhawks. The women’s team finished 34 out of 52 teams, and the men’s team finished 24 out of 50 teams.

“I’m proud of the way many of my runners battled the tough course conditions,” Coach Bob Schultz said after the race. “I’m confident those results do not reflect how good this team is. It was good to get a chance to run on the National Championship course. We hope to be back there in five weeks.”

As alluded to by Coach Schultz, results were not as good as expected, with many of the men and women looking for PR’s on this historically fast course. However, due to at least one-third of the course becoming difficult to run on, times slowed drastically. This was evident when comparing Saturday’s times to previous times run by members of the team who have experienced this course before. Out of all the competing men, only a handful have experienced the Lake Breeze course before: first-year Luke Guttormson, and seniors Jack Carroll and Preston Kauder. On the women’s side, three have raced there: first-year Brianna Renner and seniors Kemunto Ondande and Audrey Miller.

“The course was a lot slower than it normally is,” said Renner, who ran this course as a 5k in high school along with high school teammate, Guttormson. “The team had a mix of good and bad races, but we train for the end of the season and have a lot to look forward to! I thought it was great to get to see the course before championship season even though it wasn’t in prime condition.”

Ondande, who raced this course as a 6k in 2015—the last time the national championships were held at Lake Breeze golf course—agreed with Renner.

“I thought the race went fine, except for the muddy conditions on the course,” Ondande said. “The conditions were different in today’s race versus when I raced this course my freshman year. During my freshman year, it was sunny and chilly—just like how it was when we raced this weekend. This time, it was the same except for the muddy conditions we had. Times were not the greatest, but we went out and did what we could in the race. Now, we should be looking forward to the American Rivers Conference coming up soon.”

The cross country team’s next meet will be on Saturday, Nov. 3, at Nebraska Wesleyan’s home course in Lincoln, Nebraska. This will be the first American Rivers Conference cross country meet, a historical event that both teams are excited to participate in.

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