University of South Dakota junior cross country runner Amber Eichkorn has become the first USD women’s cross country runner to qualify for the Division I National Championships.
By finishing 10th at the Midwest Regionals Nov. 14, Eichkorn qualified for the Cross Country National Championships Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind., by receiving an at-large bid.
The at-large bids help fill the 31 team requirement for the national championship, according to the NCAA’s selections for runners.
When cross country head coach Dan Fitzsimmons called Eichkorn to deliver the news, she didn’t know how to respond.
“I was in shock when Coach Fitz called,” Eichkorn said. “I don’t think it truly set in until Monday morning and I realized I was going to compete in Nationals next weekend.”
It wasn’t just Eichkorn in shock. Fitzsimmons felt Eichkorn’s shock as well.
“We knew it was a long shot,” Fitzsimmons said. “She had to be the sixth individual not on a qualifying team to qualify, and the odds were not in her favor. But she has a knack for being the last qualifier into events. Last year she was the last qualifier into Nationals for the 10K.”
Eichkorn still doesn’t have all the words for becoming the first USD runner to qualify. She keeps her emotions simple.
“It feels pretty amazing,” she said.
But words can’t describe the magnitude of this moment, her coach said.
“When you’re first to do something, you will always be the first,” Fitzsimmons said. “She wasn’t just the first at USD but also the first in the entire state. It’s a historical accomplishment, and she’s basically a pioneer in the sport for South Dakota.”
Both Eichkorn and Fitzsimmons agreed this accomplishment was monumental for the university. They both reiterated that USD has had a great tradition of being a distance running school and this furthers that tradition.
Eichkorn wants this success to continue carrying the program.
“This year really established the true tradition of long distance running at USD. With our team winning the conference meet and finishing well at regionals, along with my individual accomplishments, it has been a huge year for us,” she said. “Hopefully this will allow more girls to come here and want to continue and further the tradition here.”
Fitzsimmons sees the accomplishment as one that can help propel his program and USD athletics.
“This just made our tradition stronger,” Fitzsimmons said. “Hopefully next year we can keep adding to the legacy of USD cross country running by having the team qualify for nationals.”
(Photo: Junior Amber Eichkorn, left, runs with the women’s cross country team during practice Nov. 17. Eichkorn is the first University of South Dakota runner to qualify for the Division I National Chapionships. Malachi Petersen / The Volante)