Next stop: Nationals

New season, new team, same results. The UW-Eau Claire men’s cross country team returns to the Division III NCAA National Championships for the second straight year after securing an at-large bid.

The Blugolds received their selection during an announcement by NCAA officials on Sunday.

Thirty-two teams were selected for the race. The top two teams from each of the eight regions automatically qualified for a spot while the other 16 teams were selected at-large. Six of these 16 teams were taken from Eau Claire’s region.

Fifty-six individual runners, the top seven runners from each region not on a qualifying team, were also chosen to participate.

Three of the top five teams at regionals were from the WIAC.

UW-Oshkosh was third, Eau Claire came in fourth and UW-La Crosse came in fifth. This was the first time the Blugolds beat the Eagles all season.

Head coach Dan Schwamberger said the team’s success is due to the strength of the region they run in.

“We can compete well in this region and it’s really not that different at nationals,” Schwamberger said. “(Regionals) was really like a smaller national meet because we have five of the best teams in the nation right there.”

Eau Claire, which finished second at the WIAC Championship, placed fourth Saturday at NCAA

Regionals hosted at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. It was the team’s best regional finish since 1998.

Sophomore Ryan Mugan finished in sixth and made a new personal record with a time of 24:33. Senior Matt Scott finished ninth with a time of 24:42. Senior Matt Wenaas ended up 31st with a time of 25:12, and junior Erik Rosvold and senior Paul Hetke finished side by side in 42nd and 43rd with times of 25:35.2 and 25:35.8, respectively.

Mugan, Scott and Wenaas all received All-Regional honors, given to the top-35 runners in the race.

Schwamberger said he knew nationals were a real possibility from the beginning of the season.

“I would have been very disappointed had the men’s team not qualified for nationals, knowing who we have back and I feel like they’ve run really well so I’m very excited to see what they can do on Saturday,” Schwamberger said.

This is only the 5th time Eau Claire will send a full team to nationals. The full team will include Paul Hetke, sophomore Christian Leitner, Ryan Mugan, sophomore Nick Petersson, Erik Rosvold, Matt Scott and Matt Wenaas. The alternate runner will be freshman Michael Bushar.

Last year, the Blugolds had their best finish at nationals in school history, finishing 10th.

This weekend the team competes at nationals at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday in Hanover, Ind.