Cross-country meets are unlike many other Division-I sporting events. They don’t blast celebratory music, include halftimes with dance teams or rely on cheerleaders to pump up home crowds.
No, cross-country meets run a little bit differently.
“We aren’t in the process of the refs are here, the game ball is here, let’s go out and play,” University of South Dakota cross-country coach Dan Fitzsimmons said. “It’s a matter of having the course structured, having timers in to time runners and having volunteers willing to set up.”
USD will host the Tim Young Invitational, the only home meet for the Coyotes in 2013, this Saturday at the Don Baker Cross Country Course across from the DakotaDome.
Fitzsimmons said the meet is directed by a number of people throughout the track and cross country programs. USD head track and field coach Dave Gottsleben will be one of the men in charge of making sure everything is in order for Saturday.
“The track coaches’ one job is to make sure Fitzsimmons doesn’t have to do anything except coach his kids Saturday. Anything that needs to get done should get done through us. As far as set-up and take-down, that will all be taken care of by our coaching staff and any students willing to help,” Gottsleben said.
According to Gottsleben, preparation for the one meet is a long processes that begins well before the meet.
The athletic facilities management has mowed the course numerous times, and a local packing company has also packed the area. Vermillion will paint the line for runners to follow Thursday. Finally, on Friday the meet staff will set up the runner tent, public announcement system and tables.
On meet day cross country and track staff generally handle the P.A. system while other track athletes often help work other parts of the meet.
For runners, the meet is a nice change of pace before moving into late season conference and regional meets.
“The home meet is always a fun time,” junior Brant Hasse said. “We have all our friends and family come out that don’t usually get to come see us race. It’s not a big meet, but it’s a good time for us.”
Coach Fitzsimmons said the Tim Young Invitational provides a unique opportunity to gain extra meet preparation and still enjoy a weekend at home. He even believes the home meet has another valuable role for the team.
“Home meets are nice. The moral of runners for staying at home and competing at their course is good. Also, being able to compare times from year to year at the course allows us to see if we have made some improvements,” Fitzsimmons said.
Season in full swing
After two second place finishes at the Summit League conference meet last fall, both the men’s and women’s teams are looking to take one huge step forward towards conference titles.
In front of the Coyote runners are the North Dakota State men and South Dakota State women, who each are tears of consecutive conference championships.
“We have stiff opponents throughout our conference. North Dakota State girls and South Dakota State men are both making runs right now. To overtake them we need five up front in races, not just four,” Coach Dan Fitzsimmons said.
On the women’s side, the team holds four runners who have established themselves as bona fide leaders. Sophomores Katie Wetzstein, and Amber Eickhorn, First-year Kate Kaster and senior Megan Hilson provide a solid lead-four running group for the Coyotes while senior Britni Waller has established herself as the team’s fifth runner.
“We definitely don’t have as much depth as we have had in the past, but we have a really strong lead group up front,” Waller said. “They just keep pushing up toward the top five, and everyone’s gotten faster from their example.”
According to Fitzsimmons, this group of Coyote runners has the perfect blend of youth and experience to take themselves a long way in late season meets.
“Overall, our women’s team is very talented,” Fitzsimmons said. “Our strength is we have four women who, on any given day, can be our number one runner.”
For the men’s team, the story is nearly the same. The team finished second to SDSU last season, and the goal this year is to climb one more ring in the ladder.
Moving up, however, hasn’t been easy for USD. Two of the team’s strongest runners Brant Hasse and Jeff Mettler are coming off injury and just getting back in the swing of the season.
“We had really high expectations coming into the season, and now me and Jeff are just getting back after getting injured,” Hasse said. “We really think we can go win conference and place really high at regionals.”
Fitzsimmons said he still expects big things from the two runners as well as Mubarik Musa, last year’s conference freshman of the year.
This fall the men have already showcased their improvement this season. After a 22 place finish at Minnesota’s Roy Griak Invitational, the men finished tied for second at their last meet, the South Dakota State Classic.
“It felt like we may have been a little bit disconnected at the beginning of the season. We don’t have a lot of guys, and since two of us were hurt, we felt a little bit apart. But now that we are back, we’re starting to roll,” Hasse said.
Now, the focus for both teams is centered around staying healthy moving forward. The team’s biggest test, the conference meet, is scheduled for November 2 in Fort Wayne, Ind.
If things go as planned for the Coyotes, Fitzsimmons and the runners are expecting some big performances.
“I like to think our teams get a little bit better everyday, get a little bit better every week and certainly get better every month,” Fitzsimmons said. “These are certainly the best two best teams I’ve coached at the university.”