MEQUON, Wis. – Both Concordia University Wisconsin cross country squads entered the 2012 season with high expectations after capturing both the men's and women's Northern Athletics Conference titles the previous two campaigns. The youthful Falcons didn't attain their goal, but still had an important learning experience overall.
The CUW men's and women's teams ended the fall with a combined 26 underclassmen runners (17 freshmen, nine sophomores) of the 36 total student-athletes on the teams. "It takes time to adjust to collegiate running and the training regimen," explained head coach Russ DeLap.
"I am happy as a coach to have a really good group of runners who are working as hard as they can to be the best they can be," DeLap said. "Everyone had a never quit attitude and they always worked hard. A number of factors contributed to why we didn't perform as well as we had hoped."
In truth, the Falcons didn't have all of their top runners at the six meets this season, including the NAC Championships. Nevertheless, the women finished among the top five teams at multi-school meets three times, while the men placed in the top six in three races.
"I am happy with the progress we made this season," DeLap said. "We had many personal records set throughout the year. Our veterans improved as the season developed and many of our freshmen adjusted to the mileage required to be a collegiate runner."
The Falcons finished the season with 13 personal records set on the men's side, while the women had 10 personal records eclipsed.
Freshman standout Larissa Schlitz (DeForest, Wis.), sophomore Samantha Nelson (Frederic, Wis.), junior Kelsey Wagner (Kenosha, Wis.), and senior Bethany Doerr (Chilton, Wis.) led the women's team all season.
From the beginning, Schlitz ran to the front of the pack and led the team in five meets, while Doerr was team leader at one event. The rookie runner ran the fastest race of any female Falcon at the NCAA Division III Regionals (Nov. 10) when she crossed the finish line in 24:05.26.
Doerr, Nelson and Wagner ran consistent times all season. Doerr ran a season-best 24:47.67 at the Wisconsin Private College Championships (Oct. 13), while Nelson and Wagner saved their best for last at the NCAA Division III Regionals.
Nelson ran a season-best 24:22.03, while Wagner crossed the finish line in 24:55.19 – a personal record. The Falcons had five of their seven runners competing at the NCAA Division III Regionals post either a season-best or a personal record.
CUW's women placed fifth at the Falcon Invitational (Sept. 15), fourth at the Wisconsin Private College Championships (Oct. 13) and third at the NAC Championships (Oct. 27).
"We are young," DeLap said. "It is exciting to have a young team with freshmen and sophomores. We are all excited looking one and two years into the future. CUW will return to the top spot on the podium in no time."
Sophomore Andrew Coop (Mora, Minn.) and junior Martin Hinze (Bourbonnais, Ill.) paced the men's team all year and on many occasions were within seconds of each other at the finish line. The duo each paced the Falcons three times in fall meets.
Both runners improved by over 30 seconds from the beginning of the season, while Coop ran better than his previous race in three straight events before posting a personal record of 26:34.10 at the NCAA Division III Regionals. Hinze set a season record of 26:31.88, also at the NCAA Division III Regionals.
Other men's runners who improved significantly were junior TJ Helgren (Sun Praire, Wis.) who ran 32 seconds faster a month into the season, freshman Daniel McKee (Butler, Wis.) ran 42 seconds in a month's time and freshman Steven Stiller (Island Lake, Ill.) ran 50 seconds better a month into the season for a personal record.
The fastest increase in time on the men's side was by sophomore Robert Meilbeck (Winthrop Harbor, Ill.) who was one minute and 10 seconds better than his first race of the 2012 season for a personal record 28:18.88 at the NAC Championships.
The Falcon men placed sixth at the Falcon Invitational, second at the Wisconsin Private College Championships and fourth at the NAC Championships.
"The enthusiasm surrounding this program is high," DeLap said. "Everyone is anticipating next year already, but we have to stay consistent and progress in our training before the 2013 season begins."
2012 CUW Cross Country Award Recipients
Most Valuable Runner (voted on by the team)
Team GEM Award (voted on by the team)
**GEM stands for Growth, Encouragement and Motivates
The Heart of a Monster Award
Coaches Racer Award