Blugold runners aim to keep improving through teamwork

    Team to build on the 2017 season’s success

    Lea Kopke

    More stories from Lea Kopke


    Photo by Dan Schwamberger

    Blugold runners competed in the Augsburg Invitational on Sept. 15, where the women’s team placed fifth overall. Individually, Samantha Slattery won the meet with a time of 23:32.7.

    After a top 10 finish in the 2017 NCAA Cross Country National Championships for both the men’s and women’s teams, Head Coach Dan Schwamberger said Blugold runners are coming into their next season with energy and an eagerness to improve together.

    “Everyone looks really strong right now, and we have 20 runners thinking they can be in the top 12,” Schwamberger said. “It’s exciting and there’s a healthy competitiveness where everyone is pushing each other to get better.”

    For the men’s team, last year’s season ended with a seventh place finish at the NCAA nationals competition, with frontrunner Darin Lau, who graduated last spring, placing first individually. This season begins with a host of new faces: There are 11 first-year runners.

    Schwamberger is excited to see how the new runners improve over the course of the season.

    “They seem to have had really great summers and are really into it,” Schwamberger said. “A couple of them I think will pop up into the top seven. If we can keep them together, they can provide a great foundation for the team.”

    His confidence stems from the initial attributes he looked for when selecting the new freshman runners. Schwamberger’s focus was not merely on the high school success of an athlete, but also the athlete’s work ethic and attitude.

    “Distance running is a challenging sport with ups and downs,” Schwamberger said. “Every runner battles injury or sickness. I think in order to be successful you have to have a positive attitude at the core of the team dynamic.”

    The women’s team was also successful in its 2017 season — not only did the team place first in six of its invitationals, but it also capped off the season with a second place title at the NCAA championships.

    Samantha Slattery, co-captain and lead runner for the women’s team, aims to have a strong year but is careful not to set too specific of goals when it comes to competition. Slattery is a fourth-year but has two years of eligibility left on the team, including this year.

    “I don’t want to put a number on a national’s finish — that puts too much pressure on us,” Slattery said.

    While Schwamberger recognizes each teams’ want to qualify for nationals again, he also encourages his runners to focus on day-to-day goals.

    “We don’t put much emphasis on outcome goals,” Schwamberger said. “We focus on the day to day process objectives. I don’t think goals have as much meaning as seeing what we can do on a daily basis.”

    The runners not only put an emphasis on daily goals, but also on the importance of bettering themselves through growing together as a community. One of Slattery’s initial goals for the season is even to have more team gatherings outside of practices.

    “We’re trying to be a lot closer this year than we have in the past,” Slattery said.

    Schwamberger believes the community aspect of the team is part of what helps the Blugolds to garner national rankings and a strong reputation within UW-Eau Claire athletics.

    “Teammates truly care about everyone on the team, not just the fast runners,” Schwamberger said. “That goes a long way. It helps people feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.”

    Both teams are next in action on Sept. 28 for the UW-Eau Claire Blugold Invite at the Whitetail Golf Course in Colfax.

    Kopke can be reached at [email protected].