Just two days after the first women’s conference championship at the Division I level, coach Dan Fitzsimmons was still getting congratulations from people around the DakotaDome.
But he was already focused on his team’s next competition.
“It’s a good feeling coming into the Dome, but now that we’re getting ready for practice, it’s onward to the next thing,” Fitzsimmons said. “Certainly it’s satisfying to the team. Hopefully it’s something we can build upon.”
The University of South Dakota cross country team dethroned three-time defending champions North Dakota State for its first Summit League championship.
The women placed four all-Summit League runners and left no doubt at the finish line who the best team was.
The Coyotes scored 29 points with NDSU trailing well behind at 60 and SDSU third at 63.
“Everyone’s kind of elated,” said junior Amber Eickhorn. “For me, it’s still sort of surreal. It’s done and over with, but it hasn’t sunk in fully that we won conference.”
Eickhorn was the top finisher for the Coyotes. Along with teammate and fellow junior Kate Wetzstein, USD led the pack most of the race before NDSU’s Erin Teschuck finished strong.
But Eickhorn said second place is barely on her mind. Last year, she was injured and wasn’t able to perform at her peak. She said it makes being a top finsher that much sweeter.
“To come back this year and finally win, it feels amazing,” Eickhorn said.
With Eickhorn’s runner-up finish, Wetzstein ended up in third place. Meanwhile, first-year Bethany Kozak broke out at the end of the race for fifth place.
While Kozak was not around for the Coyotes’ runner-up finish one year prior, she said there was a sense of accomplishment among her teammates. The runners came together the night before the race to reflect on their goals, and the championship was at the top.
“Our whole team is excited that we made history for USD,” Kozak said. “It was a really great experience for all of us, and I had a lot of fun out there.”
Now, the team is shifting its focus to the NCAA Midwest Regionals. Last year, the team finished 22nd at the regional.
The final Coyote to finish all-Summit was junior Kelsey Barrett. Four all-Summit runners set USD apart. The Coyotes’ top five runners finished when sophomore Nicole Schmidt crossed the finish in 12th, good for second team all-Summit.
Fitzsimmons said depth is what will also carry the team to regionals.
“Our weakest link was stronger than it ever has been and certainly more committed,” he said. “That’s what allowed us to be successful. The women who didn’t get to compete pushed the women who did to go beyond their comfort zone.”
Now, Fitzsimmons said there’s more in store for his team.
“They’ve worked way too hard for this to just let it be a flash in the pan,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the regional. We have a chance to finish higher in the regional than we ever have, and we hope that builds onto the national meet.”
USD was ranked the highest in the preseason it ever had been. For the last five weeks, the team has been ranked in the Midwest regular season rankings. The Coyotes are ranked 10th, dropping only one spot after conference meets this weekend.
The runners believe they have proven their worth, and Eickhorn said it’s up to them to go beyond.
“We want to go to regionals and show them we’re better than they think we are,” Eickhorn said. “That’s what we’re really feeling these next two weeks.”
The regional meet will begin Nov. 14 in Peoria, Ill.