Making history

This time last year, the UW-Eau Claire men’s cross country team was making school history. Their 10th-place finish at nationals was the best the university had ever seen.

Returning to the big show again this season, the Blugolds did one better. They moved up another spot, taking ninth at the Division III NCAA Championship Saturday, Nov. 23 in Hanover, Ind.

Head coach Dan Schwamberger said his team was able to keep growing consistently. Also, he said his athletes knew at the beginning of the season a top-ten finish was within their reach.

“The big thing is, after last year, the guys coming in knew that being up in the top 10 was very possible,” Schwamberger said. “Ninth is a good year, but even after the race there were a few people who were disappointed because they were thinking we could have placed a little higher.”

He said this was because his athletes have started viewing conference and state success as more of an expectation than a lofty goal. Along with that, more consistent training in the offseason has made a difference these past couple years as well, Schwamberger said.

Sophomore Christian Leitner, who placed 55th overall at nationals, said it’s not only their mentality that’s helped them position themselves at the top of competition. He said a number of younger players have stepped up this season and played pivotal roles in the team’s success.

“We have a lot of depth on our team, and that’s really been showing as we’ve had a lot of success, I’d say,” Leitner said. “We have a lot of younger guys on the team. It’s really good for them to see that we are a successful team and get them into that mentality of being a successful team.”

One athlete Schwamberger said embodied this mentality at the NCAA championship was sophomore Ryan Mugan, the Blugolds top nationals finisher. Mugan finished in 13th place this season, moving up over 200 spots from his 224th place finish last year.

Since last year was Mugan’s first time making it to nationals, he said he wasn’t sure what to expect. But after seeing the level of competition there, he said he was able to tailor his workout plan to complement a possible return to the big show.

“Last year was my first time running it and it was a really different race feel,” Mugan said. “So just to get out there and be mentally and physically prepared for that, another year of consistent training was really what I think helped me get to that point.”

Schwamberger said sophomore Nick Petersson and Leitner stepped up as well, finishing in 55th and 76th place respectively. He said he credits all of his athletes’ performances to a change in lifestyle, really working towards bettering themselves all year round while still staying on top of classes.

But a little time to rest and enjoy a historic season doesn’t hurt either. However, Leitner said the team’s break will be fairly short-lived because most of the athletes are involved with other programs or organizations as well.

“We aren’t just settled for one or two accomplishments, we want to keep being hungry and getting after it,” Leitner said. “We’ve just taken a few days off and cross-trained a little — a couple of easy runs. We are slowly getting back into things and switching over to indoor track now.”