South Dakota’s women’s and men’s cross country teams finished in first and third respectively at the Summit League Championships on Saturday at the Miracle Hill Golf Course in Omaha, Neb.
The women’s victory marked their fifth consecutive Summit League title. According to GoYotes, this streak is the second longest streak of Summit League titles in the conference’s history, behind only Southern Utah (1998-04). Senior Megan Billington said that the team felt prepared and anticipated winning the title.
“We kind of expected it, but we weren’t getting over-confident,” Billington said.
Billington earned all-Summit League first-team honors as she placed fourth with a personal best time of 21.08:45.
“The difference in this meet is that I knew it was my last conference cross country meet. I really wanted to just focus on enjoying it, so I went out kind of relaxed,” Billington said.
The women defeated North Dakota State 51-52. Head coach Dan Fitzsimmons pointed to USD’s roster depth as a difference-maker.
“Because of their strength, that’s what allowed us to pull out the victory. Because certainly when it’s a one-point meet, having your sixth and seventh push your opponent’s fifth runner back further was probably the deciding factor,” Fitzsimmons said.
USD senior Madeline Huglen finished in seventh with a time of 21:29.7. Also running for the Coyotes was sophomore Jonna Bart and junior Kianna Stewart, who both earned Summit League second-team recognition.
Bart finished the race with a time of 21:49.19, good for tenth place. Meanwhile, Stewart finished in 14th with a time of 22:00.80.
South Dakota’s men’s team finished in third with 83 points, behind North Dakota State University (60 points) and South Dakota State (23 points).
Senior Eldon Warner earned first place at the event, becoming the first Coyote ever to win an individual Summit League cross country championship. He battled against South Dakota State’s Chase Cayo and Kyle Burdick before running away with first place in a time of 24:58.59.
Warner pointed to the sixth kilometer of the eight-kilometer race as a key turning point.
“At around 6k into the race, I just kind of decided I’m going to win this race. I’m going to go, and then at 1k left, I really took a shot and really started to lay the hammer down,” Warner said.
“Eldon had a great race, looked very comfortable, carried out a race plan we’ve been talking about for a year,” Fitzsimmons said.
Warner said the freshmen with have played a key role in the team’s success this season.
“There’s a different change in attitude, especially with a lot of our freshmen coming in,” Warner said. “A lot of them are extremely hard workers. They’re all grinders. Every single practice they’re trying to get better… we’re a lot mentally stronger than we used to be.”
The next event is the NCAA Midwest Regional competition.
“We always look for things we can tweak and get a little bit better on, certainly we want to run real well at the regionals,” Fitzsimmons said. “We know that our best races are still ahead of us.”