As their first meet of the season approaches, the USD cross country team looks to sustain their place at the top of the Summit League by building on last year’s success.
Last year, the women’s team earned a Summit League championship for the fourth year in a row, placing first in four of five meets and fifth in regionals. The men’s team placed third in the Summit League and 20th in regionals.
This year, the women are atop the Summit League’s Preseason Poll, receiving six of eight first-place votes, while the men were voted third.
Four-time Summit League Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year, Dan Fitzsimmons believes his team can’t be complacent heading into a new year.
“Whether you are first or third, or even last, the idea is that you have to raise the bar,” said Fitzsimmons. “You can’t rest on what you did last year and think you are going to be successful this year.”
Senior Megan Billington, who in 2017, garnered first-team all-Summit League honors and finished fourth in the Summit League Championships, leads the women’s cast of runners this year.
Billington said the team’s preparation for the season begins early.
“A lot of people think that it starts when we get to school, but we have been working all summer to prepare for every meet that we have this season,” said Billington.
Billington was picked as one of the Summit League’s Preseason Players to Watch, as was senior Eldon Warner on the men’s side, who finished third in the Summit League championships last year and earned all-Summit League first team honors.
Warner looks to help the team improve from a third-place finish in the Summit League.
“This season, the goal is the same as it always is, and that’s to come out on top during conference,” Warner said. “The Jacks have always kind of performed ahead of us every single year since I’ve been here and I would like to see us overcome that kind of barrier.”
July 1, the University of North Dakota officially joined the Summit League “for all of its varsity sports (except for football and hockey)”, according to fightinghawks.com. This move includes cross country, and Coach Fitzsimmons believes adding competition to the conference will motivate his athletes.
“It helps raise the bar without us having to do something solely for ourselves,” said Fitzsimmons. “When you know you have more competition, you are going to have to be better because they are not trying to come in and get fifth either. They are trying to be the best versions of themselves.”
The team kicks off their season at the Augustana Twilight meet Aug. 31 at Augustana University.