Cross country teams earn ticket to NCAAs: Men finish first at regionals; women get at-large bid

St. Olaf hosted the NCAA Division-III Central Region Cross Country Championships on Nov. 16. With the home advantage, the St. Olaf men’s team was victorious for the second year in a row, placing first out of 26 teams. Central College men’s team put up a strong fight, finishing second overall, just ten points behind St. Olaf. Meanwhile, the St. Olaf women celebrated third place. After the women received an at-large bid, both the men and women qualified for the national meet.

Grant Wintheiser ’15 finished the men’s 8K race second overall in 24:39. Jake Brown ’15 followed close behind, placing third overall and crossing the finish line at 24:47. With this time, Brown ranks fourth in the all-time St. Olaf 8K record book. Wintheiser still holds the second place spot. Brian Saksa ’14 placed sixth overall with 25:06, earning him the tenth spot in the Oles’ all-time 8K record book.

Jake Campbell ’15 finished 18th with 25:36 followed by Calvin Lehn ’14 with 25:38. Dillon Davis ’14 and Phillip Meyer ’15 trailed close behind, placing all seven St. Olaf runners in the top 25 of the race.

“Being the seventh runner, I could see the string of St. Olaf guys in front of me,” Meyer said. “I just thought, ‘We are crushing it right now.'”

The St. Olaf women placed third behind Carleton College and Wartburg College. Noelle Olson ’17 finished second overall with 21:30, earning her the third-place spot in the St. Olaf 6K record book. Jorden Johnson ’15 finished fourth with 22:05. St. Olaf was the only team to place two runners in the top five of the meet.

“I really wanted to have a great race by going out there and feeling strong doing the thing that I love,” Olson said. “I think that I accomplished that goal, but only with the help and encouragement of my whole team and coaches.”

Michaela Banz ’15 finished third for the St. Olaf women and 27th overall with 23:21, followed by Allison Trezona ’17 with 23:43 and Grace Wilson ’17 with 23:54.

The St. Olaf runners attribute their success in part to the home advantage they had by being able to race on the Ole natural lands.

“It’s really cool to be able to run on the same paths that we train on,” Saksa said. “Experiencing pain on the workouts helps you experience pain in the race. It helps to break the barrier.”

The teams also rely on camaraderie to help them through each race.

“Personally, when I’m in pain in the last mile, the only thing that pushes me is knowing that I’m running for my team,” Brown said. “I just keep telling myself, you’re doing this for the Oles.”

Both teams will compete for national titles next week at the NCAA Division-III Championships in Hanover, Ind. With encouraging results from the regional meet, the St. Olaf men and women look expectantly toward the race to come.

“I’m really pumped for nationals,” Brown said. “Something that’s always been in the back of our heads is to give it our best shot and try to win the national championship. We’ve trained hard, and we’re ready for a big finale to the season.”