On Saturday, the USD cross country team tied up their laces and headed to the start line in Minneapolis — some as big-race virgins and others as experienced veterans.
The cross country teams were competing at the Roy Griak Invitational, one of the largest collegiate cross country competitions in the Midwest over the weekend.
“That was tough. I didn’t feel good during that race,” first-year Jacob Simmons said immediately following the race.
The men’s battle began at 12:20 p.m. When the gun went off, South Dakota’s Mubarik Musa immediately asserted himself as one of the top runners in the field coming through the first mile in four minutes, fifty five seconds while sitting in 32nd place.
And in the second mile, Musa made it clear that he was a knowledgable runner as he stuck to his pace. As runners around him fell back because they couldn’t handle the pace, he stuck it out. Musa went through the second mile having passed 20 people, putting him in the 10th spot.
At this point in the race, Musa was in the lead pack with just a fraction of a second between him and first place.
He held on and was able to pluck off another one, finishing in nineth place with a personal best time of 25:11.
“That was the plan going into the race, to not get all caught up in the chaos, just get out and stick to pace,” the senior leader for USD said.
Senior Isaac Allen also gutted out a solid performance for the men, finishing second for the team and 82nd overall with a time of 26:37.
Finishing fourth for the team was sophomore Brice Cowman at 27:19.
One hour later, the women took the course. And it was senior Amber Eichkorn’s turn to take an astounding lead, gapping the rest of the field by at least 10 meters.
“It wasn’t necessarily the plan, but I’ve never been the type of runner to just sit back in the pack and let the race come to me. Maybe I should have controlled the adrenaline a little bit, but it was a good experience,” Eichkorn said.
After that point she was passed by a few runners, but never let up.
Eichkorn was nearly unphased by getting passed, the extra adrenaline boost causing her to exert a bit more energy at the start of the race.
Teammate sophomore Katie Wetzstein started to pull up on Eichkorn mid-way through the race.
“When I saw Katie nearing, it was an instant boost,” Eichkorn said.
The two went stride-for-stride the rest of the race finishing 14th and 15th, with Wetzstein just edging out Eichkorn in the final meter.
Growth over time
On both the women and the men’s side the first-years were running collegiate races they had never seen before. Not only was it a brand new course, but it was an entirely new length. The women were getting their first taste of a 6,000 meter race, and the men felt out the 8,000 for the first time.
In 2012, Amber Eichkorn, Katie Wetzstein, Mubarik Musa and Isaac Allen were all first-years at Griak.
Allen didn’t finish in the top 100. Musa didn’t finish in the top 40. Eichkorn didn’t finish in the top 100. And Katie Wetzstein finished last for the South Dakota women. She didn’t even make the top 200.
This is a sport that athletes get better at with time, as Allen, Musa, Eichkorn and Wetzstein can attest to.
“There’s going to be hiccups in every season, and it is what it is. No reason to dwell on it. We just move on to the next race” said USD head coach Dan Fitzsimmons.
The women ended up finishing 11th in the team standings, while the men finished 16th.
As for the men, Musa and his teammates know there’s still a conference title to focus on.
“We just have to get better” Musa said.
(Photo: Fighting for the fastest time, Katie Wetzstein and Amber Eichkorn race neck-and-neck all the way to the finish line. Wetzstein and Eichkorn went on to finish one place apart. Jacob Lutz / The Volante)