The transition to Division I has been a tough one for many University of South South Dakota athletic teams.
However, if you ask a member of the USD men and women’s cross country team, they will tell you their 2012 season has been far from a failure.
With both the men’s and women’s teams placing first at a pair of meets this season and a second place finish at the recent Summit League Championships, the Coyote cross country teams have silently been the most successful for USD this fall season.
Now, both teams are preparing to compete in the NCAA Midwest Regional Nov. 9, with a shot at attending the NCAA Division-I Nationals in Louisville, Ky.. on the line.
Yet, their success has seemed to go unnoticed.
Junior Jeff Mettler, who led the Coyotes with a second-place finish, said that while some recognition would be nice, it isn’t what the team necessarily wants or needs.
“It probably puts a little less pressure on us, which is good.” Mettler said. “But still it is nice to get a little bit of recognition for all the work we have put in.”
Head Coach Dan Fitzsimmons said while it is nice to be encouraged by the fans, the team still has to go out and do their job regardless of who is watching.
“It’s nice to get patted on the back, but running is more of an intrinsic sport. The feeling that you get from having a good day goes a long way,” Fitzsimmons said.
This is the team’s first season in the NCAA Division I, and senior runner Ethan Marquardt says that the team’s progress from previous seasons has a lot to do with this year’s
“We have made a lot of improvements from last year and previous years,” Marquardt said. “We can’t just keep doing the same stuff we have been doing to get better. You have to change things up and make improvements and test things out. Especially now that we have moved up into the big leagues, we have to try things that other big schools are doing in order to compete.”
While the team wants to place well at its upcoming NCAA Regional competition, they believe that getting the experience of it is more important than where they might finish.
“The experience of actually being there is going to be really valuable, even though we do have expectations for ourselves,” Mettler said.
“Whatever place we get this year at regionals we want to be able to beat that the next year. We always want to focus on improving no matter what the scoreboards might say. Improvement and getting better and better is huge,” said Marquardt.
The team is excited going into the regional meet knowing that they have a pretty good shot at going to Nationals, junior Megan Hilson said.
“It is so exciting that we are finally a Division-I program and competing with all those other big schools,” Hilson said. “But actually knowing that Nationals is in the realm of all that, it’s finally setting in that we are actually D-I, and we can compete with all those other big schools.”
While the team has had its success this season, Mettler has had his own personal success this year as well.
Mettler finished second at the Summit League championships, and he also won the Creighton/Nebraska-Omaha as well as the Tim Young Invite.
He also finished very strong in the other meets this season. Even though Mettler has his own goals to achieve, he believes the team is more important than how he does as an individual.
“I always try to lead by example,” Mettler said. “I think that is the best thing that you can do, and to help the underclassmen, and to be there whenever they have a question or if they need something is important.”
The teams will travel to Springfield, Mo. Nov. 9 for the NCAA Midwest Regionals, where the top 15 teams will earn spots in the NCAA National meet Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky.