Morningside, Dordt and Northwestern each send runners to national NAIA meet Friday
SIOUX CITY — Morningside College cross country coach David Nash learned a valuable lesson this season, thanks to runners Emalee Fundermann and Jo McKibben.
That lesson? Never doubt anyone if they’re passionate about something. The two Mustangs women have shown Nash that throughout the season, and that lesson will culminate Friday by being two of the four Mustangs running in the national meet 12:30 p.m. Friday in Vancouver, Washington.
The two other Morningside qualifiers are Ro Paschal and Connor Ritz.
McKibben wanted to try cross country following a track season where the MVAOCOU High School graduate had some success, but not to her satisfaction.
McKibben went to Nash shortly after the track season ended to see if she was a good fit on the cross country squad. She also wanted to challenge herself by trying something new.
“I said, ‘Let’s give it a go,’” Nash said. “With Jo, I tried to talk her out of it, because I didn’t think it would be in her best interest.”
McKibben has been the Mustangs No. 1 or No. 2 runner throughout the season, and at the GPAC meet earlier this month in Sioux Center, McKibben finished seventh, just one spot ahead of Fundermann.
The Mustangs left for the Pacific Northwest late Tuesday night, but before they left, McKibben recorded a personal best in a mile-split at Tuesday’s practice.
As Nash looks ahead, he plans on placing McKibben in the team’s 4×800 relay team as well as other distance races.
“She’s really turning into something special,” Nash said. “It’s going to be really exciting to see what she can do in a mile, a 600, a 400. She’ll be well under 2 (minutes), 20 (seconds), and she’ll be a key part of the 4×800 team.”
Fundermann, meanwhile, wasn’t even in the top-10 on the Morningside lineup last season, and wanted to put all her energy on the track and field season.
But, Nash and Fundermann both knew how competitive the Anthon native was, and how much a comeback would mean to her.
That comeback didn’t happen right away, though.
After not cracking the top-100 in the first two meets of the season, Fundermann finished 69th at the Briar Cliff meet at Adams Nature Preserve after getting 79th two weeks earlier at the Greeno/Dirksen Invitational.
Fundermann broke through at the Dordt University Invitational where she got eighth, then got 12th at the Mount Marty-hosted meet.
Fundermann then got eighth again in Sioux Center at the GPAC meet.
“It’s all about her comeback and not giving up,” Nash said. “She’s so competitive. Emalee and Jo put themselves in a good position over the summer and never looked back. They never relinquished that. They’re very driven ladies.”
Paschal’s key to success has been cutting down the number of miles he’s run throughout the season.
When Paschal ran at Adams State, he was running 120 miles a week. Nash limits Paschal to 55 miles a week, and the results have shown consistently throughout the season.
Paschal has finished in the top-11 in each of the last four meets.
“He’s running the best times of his life,” Nash said. “He gave us a chance and he bought in.”
Ritz, a Bishop Heelan graduate, has seen consistency in his last four meets, too. Ritz has finished in the top-20 since the beginning of October, and at the GPAC meet, the former Crusaders runner finished ninth.
“He’s just a workhorse,” Nash said. “The team just loves Connor. He’s one of, if not the, most popular guy on the team.”
Dordt aims high
When the Dordt men’s team won the GPAC meet at home, coach Nate Wolf said he was glad to see the Defenders hit the top of the mountain.
Now, the Defenders men — ranked 16th in the final national poll — will find out how high they can climb on Friday.
The men were led in the GPAC meet by Eric Steiger (runner-up) and Jacob Vander Plaats, as he finished third.
Dordt had a few other all-conference recipients: Brooks DeWaard, Nicholas Veldhorst, Josh Ruppecht and Joe Anderson.
“We have eight, nine guys that can interchange,” coach Nate Wolf said.
The Defenders women, meanwhile, are ranked 19th going into Friday’s national race. They’re led by GPAC champion Olivia Couch and Sarah Wensink, who placed third at the meet.
Dordt finished second in the GPAC race, and with that, it earned an at-large spot as a team.
Wolf believes both teams can gain confidence by running on the national course.
“I hope it’s a stepping stone that can propel them to better seasons next year, even,” Wolf said. “I think it’s been a growing year, and I think it’s taken them all season to get here.”
Red Raiders send quartet
Joshua Starr, Micah Van Kalsbeek, Hunter Koepke and Autumn Muilenburg qualified for the national meet for Northwestern.
The three women put in good times to make the cut. Van Kalsbeek ran a personal best time of 19:15, while Muilenburg and Koepke had season-best times of 19:16 and 19:17.
Starr finished 13th at the GPAC meet and earned the fourth and final individual spot, as the top-15 non-team qualifying runners advance.
“It’s awesome for our program … our athletes have done a great job of training and a great job of supporting one another,” Red Raiders coach Scott Bahrke said.