The UW-River Falls men’s cross country team will not have to travel far for the WIAC championship meet.
UWRF will host the WIAC meet this year. The men’s race will begin at 1 p.m., on Saturday, Nov. 2, at the Kilkarney Hills Golf Course in River Falls.
“This is the first time we’ve hosted this meet in nine years, and the first time we have hosted it at Kilkarney Hills,” said Co-Head Coach Matthew Cole, who is in his first year coaching the team.
The meet gives the men’s team a second chance to run in front of its home crowd this season. UWRF hosted the Falcon Invitational, also at Kilkarney, on Sept. 14, and placed fifth.
“At our home meet we had a bunch of guys come out to cheer us on, and that was a big help,” said sophomore runner Jackson Shaw. “To hear ‘Go RF’ every step you take is a huge boost.”
This year’s team looks a lot different than last year’s squad, which finished seventh at the WIAC meet. Four of the top seven runners from last year’s team did not return, which has resulted in the core of this year’s Falcons being led by underclassmen.
“We have a pretty talented young group. It’s a lot of freshman and sophomores in the top five and seven range, with a couple of seniors sprinkled in there,” said Co-Head Coach Scott Sekelsky, who is in his seventh season as a head coach for cross country at UWRF, but in his first season coaching the men’s team.
With such a young group of runners, five of the top seven are underclassmen, Cole said that running at home provides the team with an advantage.
“I believe anytime you can compete at home in front of your home fans, friends and family it does give you a competitive edge, especially with the youth guys,” Cole said. “It always seems that the upperclassmen are the guys who can perform well on the road, but your freshman and sophomores will perform better at home.”
A big difference on this year’s team is the closeness with which the top seven runners finish the races. At the Jim Drews Invitational, the top group all finished only a little more than a minute apart from one another.
“Coach Sekelsky always tells us to run together because it’s much more efficient,” Shaw said. “They (teammates) have your back all the time.”
While running as a pack is good for team scores, Sekelsky is still waiting for one or two runners to emerge ahead of the pack.
“In our conference you need a front runner. It’s great to have that pack, but what you would like is someone, or two, out front and the rest packed in behind that,” Sekelsky said.
However, after a poor finish last year at the WIAC meet, Cole said there is no reason why the Falcons cannot surprise some teams at this year’s meet.
“I’m not sure where we’re going to place. Heck, as good as this conference is we could finish anywhere from eighth to fifth, or third,” Cole said. “It comes down to one day and one race.”