Reaching new heights

Cross country looks to maintain dominance in the post season

Junior+Ryan+Mugan+took+10th+at+the+NCAA+national+meet+Saturday+in+Mason%2C+Ohio.+His+team+came+in+seventh.

Photo by UW-Eau Claire Blugold athletics

Junior Ryan Mugan took 10th at the NCAA national meet Saturday in Mason, Ohio. His team came in seventh.

After a season that put UW-Eau Claire on the cross country map, the Blugold runners are looking to top their national finishes a year ago.

Last year, the men’s team placed seventh in the nation at the NCAA Division III national meet, setting a school record. Meanwhile, the women’s team finished their season ranked 17th nationally.

Head coach Dan Schwamberger said while the program lost a few seniors due to graduation, a lot of the same leaders have returned from last year. This, he said, will help both the team’s overall goals for the upcoming season.

“Both teams are looking to improve upon last year’s nationals finish,” Schwamberger said. “I think both teams should be able to do that. It’s really early right now, but I think we should be pretty strong.”

Before the teams get to the post-season, Schwamberger said everyone wants to run and get used to racing again. Cross country is unique in the sense that the early meets aren’t too critical, and the first meet that holds importance for the Blugolds is the conference meet, Schwamberger said.

On Friday, Schwamberger said the team did a time trial, which finalized the roster. The women’s team gained 15 freshmen runners, while the men’s team added 11.

“After this year, we’ll graduate a lot of runners,” Schwamberger said. “I’m really happy, it looks like we’ve got a strong freshman class.”

Senior captain Lucy Ramquist said at time trial, she noticed the returning runners looked healthy, and the freshmen were, “right up in the mix” with the returners.

Senior captain Ryan Mugan said while it’s pretty early to set goals as a team, the men’s team has high expectations for their end of the year meets.

“It’s only September,” Mugan said. “We’re just looking to go into November healthy.”

On the women’s side, Ramquist said her squad will set season goals after the upcoming alumni meet. The senior said it’s easier to set goals as a team after everyone has a race under their belts.

“Right now, we just think of the objective goals,” Ramquist said. “We’re setting small daily goals, like getting eight hours of sleep a night or eating healthy. These small goals help us achieve the big goals.”

For now, Ramquist said her and her co-captains are focusing on building team camaraderie. Her role as a captain, she said, is to be a facilitator of team bonding and to welcome the freshmen on the team.

On Saturday, the season opens for the Blugolds as they stay close to home and host their annual alumni meet. Schwamberger said this meet is treated as a work out and helps athletes gauge where they are in terms of their race pace.

The first big meet for the Blugolds is Saturday, September 19 at the St. Olaf Invitational, which marks the opening of their conference season.

Last season, the men’s team garnered a first place finish in the WIAC conference, but fell behind UW-La Crosse at the national meet, Schwamberger said. The head coach said La Crosse graduated a couple of their top runners, but there’s still talent on the squad.

“(La Crosse) has talent coming back, so I’m anticipating they’re going to have a strong team,” he said. “UW-Oshkosh has a good team as well, as does UW-Platteville.”

The women’s team also will be competing up against La Crosse and Oshkosh throughout the season as well, Schwamberger said.

Mugan said the biggest goal for all the athletes is to stay healthy now and into the season.

“Everyone knows what to do to stay healthy,” he said. “So right now we’re trying to eat right, sleep well and not go too hard into the workouts.”