The UW-River Falls women’s cross country team is aiming for a goal which has never been accomplished in the team’s history.
“We have goals of making the National Championship this year,” said Co-Head Coach Matthew Cole.
The team is off to the best start it has ever had. It is ranked No. 6 in the Midwest Region, the highest the team has ever been ranked. It also finished fourth out of nine teams at the Falcon Invitational on Sept. 14.
The Falcons return seven of their eight top runners from last year’s squad, which finished fifth at the WIAC meet, the best in school history. However, the team does not return Katie Rydeen, fifth place at the WIAC meet a season ago, who graduated in May.
Co-Head Coach Scott Sekelsky noted that it is hard to fill the shoes of a front runner, but said he believes the team has already done so.
“I had a couple of people, I felt, coming in that I thought could fill those shoes. Because it is really important in this conference that you have a front runner,” Sekelsky said.
After the first race, junior Tia Harris has stepped into the role of the team’s lead runner.
“I’ve never been the lead runner. I just put a lot of training and time into it, and hopefully everything pays off at the right time,” Harris said. So far it has, as Harris finished the six kilometer course in 22:56, which placed her in sixth place overall.
Cole mentioned how the women’s team has seen overall improvement in recent years. “You look at some times from the past four or five years, some of our middle of the pack girls are running faster than what our No. 1 runners did a few years ago.”
Because of this improvement, the team no longer has the ability to fly under the radar in the conference.
“We’re probably not as unnoticed as we used to be. Last year, no one thought about us. I think definitely the conference people will take notice of us,” Sekelsky said.
The team has their sights set on a higher finish in conference than their best-ever finish last year.
“I really think we can take fourth, or even third. It’s definitely reasonable that we can be in that range, and we should feel that way going in,” Sekelsky said. The conference meet will be run on the same course on which the team just ran the Falcon Invitational, the Kilkarney Golf Course in River Falls.
On Sept. 28, the team will head to the Roy Griak Invitational, hosted by the University of Minnesota. In a meet with tough competition the team will get a chance to see where they stack up.
“It’s a tough race with a lot of competition,” Harris said. “We’ll have all of our conference teams there except for Stout, so it will give us a chance to see where we stand in the conference.”
While the team is off to the best start in school history, Sekelsky said that there is plenty of room for improvement.
“We can get healthier, we had a few people who weren’t running. We also have some younger runners who need to learn how to run a 6k. So we definitely have a lot of work to do,” Sekelsky said. “It was a very good start, but we put it in the rear view mirror and keep going forward. Our goal is way down the road in mid-November.”
Both Sekelsky and Harris mentioned that the team, as a whole, came in almost right where they left off last season. Something they both said is a testament to all the work the women put in over the summer.
“Right now, on paper, we’re better than we were last year,” said Sekelsky.