Both cross country teams look to top MIAC

Senior Mike Connell of the men’s cross country team uses his mind to beat his opponents.

“Runners are crazy,” Connell said. “We’ll think about the most irrational things. Last year at conference, a Johnnie passed me with about 400 meters to go. I had just bought a new pair of shoes, so I focused on how my shoes were lighter than his. I ended up beating him.”

The men’s and women’s cross country teams hope that if they think they will have a good season, they will.

The men’s team placed third at the MIAC conference meet last year, and this season they want to win the conference meet and qualify for the national championship, head coach Peter Wareham said. To accomplish this, he said each runner would need to improve his performance from last year.

“If they finished in the top 15 at the MIAC [last year], we need them to be in the top ten [this year]. If they finished in the top 25, we need them to finish in the top 15,” Wareham said. “During the course of a long season, sometimes guys lose sight of their goals, and we need to make sure we are committed to these goals.”

Currently, three Tommie men’s runners could finish as All-Conference, based on their performances last year. Ben Sathre is the top sophomore runner in the conference and one of the best in the nation.

He was the first St. Thomas freshman to break 15 minutes in the 5K since 1984. Connell and fifth-year senior Brian Sames can also look to finish in the top 15 at the MIAC meet this season. Wareham said senior Seth Rosvold and sophomore Tyler Iverson had good track seasons last spring, and the team needs them to carry that momentum into cross country season.

The team did lose Rorak Hooten and track and field All-Americans Matt Boumeester and Kyle Brandon. “Losing talented seniors is always part of the equation,” Coach Wareham said. “They did a great job last year, but it is a new opportunity for others to step up.”

Those looking to fill the leadership role are Sames, fifth-year senior Greg Dowe, and Connell.

Connell said he is looking forward to what the incoming freshmen can bring to the team. Promising freshmen this year include Stu Lombardo, Pat Bryant and Brian Farley.

The team’s main competitors this year for the conference title look to be St. Olaf, St. John’s and Hamline. St. Olaf is the defending men’s cross country champions.

To make it to the national meet, the men will have to beat Grinnell College and Nebraska Wesleyan University at the regional level. The men enter the season seventh regionally in the Division III preseason rankings, according to the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). Nebraska Wesleyan is ranked first and Grinnell is ranked third.

Women’s cross country coach Joseph Sweeney is also hoping to advance to the national meet. Last year the women’s team placed third in the region meet and 14th at nationals.

The team is ranked 11th nationally in the Division III preseason rankings, according to the USTFCCCA.

“Our strategy is always to peak for the championship meets late in the season. That is a big part of our tradition,” Sweeney said. “I wish we could duplication [last year’s season] or improve slightly. That would make for an excellent season.”

Last year, Coach Sweeney won the MIAC “triple crown,” as the women’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams won the MIAC Championship for the three consecutive years. Last year, the cross country team won the conference title by two points, and this year they are shooting for a fourth straight win.

Senior captain said the main competitors for the conference title will be Bethel and Carleton. According to the USTFCCCA rankings, St. Thomas is ranked second in the region, with Bethel ranked third and Carlton in fourth.

“This year will be stressful, but fun and interesting,” junior Kelly Russ said. “We just don’t know what to expect yet.”

She said this season is still questionable largely because two-time All-American Katie Theisen graduated in May.

“[Katie] was the front leader,” Russ said. “[We] lost Katie, but I’m excited to see what we can do now as a pack.”

Top runners who are returning from last year are Russ, juniors Allie Metzler, Raynee DeGrio and Alyssa Rassett-Mehl, and sophomores Emma Spoon and Nikki Schminski. Taylor Berg and Nicole Flack are also promising freshmen.

“They have gotten used to winning, and I know they want to continue that trend,” Sweeney said. “They know what it takes to be successful, and that counts for a lot.”

Rebekah Frank can be reached