Time will tell

Returning from a season where both men and women’s cross country teams qualified for Nationals, with the women took home their sixth WIAC championship while the men finished second at the same meet, key seniors graduated for each team, and cross country runners for UW-Eau Claire have reputations to live up to.

But head coach Dan Schwamberger said championship season is not on the radar of the two teams quite yet. Practice started on Aug. 26, so Schwamberger said it is too early to tell how the runners will place against each other, let alone how the team will perform once championship season starts.

Schwamberger said the WIAC always brings high competition, with UW-La Crosse, UW-Stout, UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh to name a few. But Schwamberger said the competition only pushes the runners.

Right now Eau Claire is focusing on strengthening as a team and individually. The Blugolds have a strong teamwork mentality, Schwamberger said, which allows them to healthily compete while still having a fellow teammate’s best interests at heart.

Schwamberger said the team has set smaller, broader goals for the season — eat healthy, get enough sleep, keep up with school work — to allow them to excel when the competition gets tough.

The men lost their two top runners, but senior Matt Wenaas, a National lineup returner, said they still have high expectations for the season.

“It stinks that we lost our two top guys, but everyone this year over the summer did their homework and put in a lot of work, and I think we have a strong pack,” Wenaas said. “Our goals are still the same.”

Junior Adam Moline, sophomore Ryan Mugan and senior Paul Hetek are the other returning from the Nationals lineup.

Wenaas said they are still in healthy competition with each other to fight for a spot on the regional team.

Schwamberger said the team talks about competing with each other — as long as it is in a positive manner.

“Obviously it’s competitive, but you are pushing each other up instead of pulling them down.” Schwamberger said. “That’s how good teams are. The more competitive, the better.”

The men have loose goals set for the upcoming season because they haven’t had a meet this season. Wennas said getting the team to nationals is on his goal list, and being his last season, he is determined to fight hard.

“I always said next year, next year I’ll do this, next year I’ll do that,” Wennas said. “I kind of ran out of next years.”

The women only have two All-Conference runners returning — seniors Nikki Rendler and Alana Jenkins. The women’s cross country team has won conference for the last six years and qualified for Nationals for the past eight years. Jenkins said there has been a new dynamic to the team this year because so many spots are up for grabs.

“It’s been interesting for sure. I mean, the past three years I’ve been here, you just assume the top of set so that’s definitely been a new dynamic,” Jenkins said. “But it’s really exciting, too, because of the potential for people to step up.”

Schwamberger said there are eleven freshman new to the team this year and the talent is strong.

The young team is leaving a bit of pressure on the women to be as successful as years past, Jenkins said.

“I think there is sort of a level of anxiety with upperclassmen because it’s going to be harder this year than it ever has been,” Jenkins said. “But I feel like we owe it to our team and our coaches and ourselves just to give everything we had and see what happens.”

Schwamberger said he is not even thinking about Nationals yet, but he has confidence in the incoming freshmen class. Jenkins said the one time the team has run time trials this year the weather was scorching and so it wasn’t the best representation of the team.

After the upcoming alumni meet on Sept. 7, both the men and women are hoping to have a better understanding of where the runners sit with each other.

Wenaas said after the Roy Griak Invite at the University of Minnesota, Minn. the Blugolds can start to get a feel of there they stand with their big competition. Schwamberger said he has seen great relationship and great success in past years and expects it will continue for this season.

“By far combined (the past few years have been) the most successful team effort, looking at both the women’s and men’s team, since Marcie and I have been here,” Schwamberger said. “And I think what you don’t always see in that is the team dynamic was really fantastic.”