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Women’s cross country finishes third in WIAC

November 7, 2013

Women's cross country team
The women’s cross country team poses with its third place plaque after the WIAC Championship meet. The third place finish was the highest in program history. This was the first time in nine years that UWRF hosted the WIAC Championship meet. WIAC Commissioner Gary Karner said it was one the best run that he had ever attended, according to Sports Information Director, Jim Thies. Co-Head Coach Matthew Cole said everyone who helped at the meet deserve a special thank you for their hard work. (Photo courtesy of Tia Harris)

The UW-River Falls women’s cross country team finished third at the WIAC championship, the highest finish in program history.

“I am glad to be leaving the WIAC on a high note. All of the seniors were thrilled by the success.” said senior runner Hillary Geipel. Last year the Falcons finished fifth at the WIAC championship, held on Nov. 2, their best ever finish at the time. They also defeated six time defending WIAC champion UW-Eau Claire, and came within eight points of UW-Stevens Point, ranked No. 27 in the country.

“This was the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of different people, and out of those young ladies,” said Co-Head Coach Matthew Cole. “It was great to see them rally behind each other and have a lot of success and come out with one of the best finishes we have had in school history.”

Runners (from left to right) Hillary Geipel, Kaylee Nelson, Mackenzie Wilkinson, Amanda Rothbauer and Anna Bastyr run in a pack at the WIAC Championship meet.
Runners (from left to right) Hillary Geipel, Kaylee Nelson, Mackenzie Wilkinson, Amanda Rothbauer and Anna Bastyr run in a pack at the WIAC Championship meet. (Kathy M. Helgeson/University Communications)

The team also placed three runners in the top 15. Tia Harris, who finished fourth, was named to the All-WIAC first team, and both Brittany Nordland, 10th, and Beth Riihien, 14th, were named to the All-WIAC second team. Geipel was also nominated for the WIAC Scholar Athlete award at the meet.

Co-Head Coach Scott Sekelsky, who is in his seventh season coaching the women’s team, said that he has never had more than one runner be named to the All-WIAC team.

“I don’t know that there has ever been more than one. Our third finisher was 14th, and there was a time when we would have been celebrating that. Now to have a fourth, a 10th and a 14th, is a pretty big deal, and we needed that to happen,” Sekelsky said. “That was really exciting to see.”

Leading up the meet, Cole, who is in his first season coaching the team, introduced a new tradition for the team.

“We took the kids who were going to run the conference meet out to a nice dinner. We talked about a few things and had our seniors speak on what they feel is important to the program, and what they want to leave as a legacy and see where the program grows,” Cole said.

The dinner and senior speeches weren’t the only new thing for the team that night.

“After that emotional speech from them we brought the jerseys out and said, ‘Oh, by the way,’ and they were shocked,” Cole said. “I think it helped pump them up a little bit more with new uniforms to surprise some people.”

Sekelsky added that the uniforms were a nice touch, but were different for him.

“It was tough for me at first because I was not used to it. I’m used to red, every year I’ve been here we’ve worn red,” Sekelsky said. “It shouldn’t take uniforms to get you fired up, but being at home, knowing whats at stake and putting those on helped.”

Geipel also liked the new look uniforms, but said they were not used as extra motivation.

“I can’t credit them with any of last weekend’s success. The WIAC meet always has an intense and exciting atmosphere, and we did not really need the new uniforms to fire us up,” Geipel said. “Besides, we know we still have work to do at the regional level and larger goals left to accomplish.”

The regional meet will be hosted on Saturday, Nov. 16, by Augustana College. Sekelsky said that the regionals course will be similar to the course which the team just ran at Kilkarney Hills Golf Course.

Ten of the 12 runners for UWRF ran personal best times at the WIAC meet, but Sekelsky said that there is still some room to improve.

“A couple of them can still do more, they still have more in them,” Sekelsky said. “I do think we still as a team can run better, we didn’t run perfectly, we just closed well.”
The Falcons’ goal at regionals will be to qualify for the national meet.

“The team placed eighth at regionals last year, and this year we have improved a lot. We all have been running faster than ever, and I have no doubt that we will place higher than last year, anywhere from seventh to fifth,” Geipel said. “If everything goes perfectly and we run closer as a pack, qualifying for Nationals is a definite possibility.”

Cole said that qualifying for the national meet was a goal of the women’s team when the season began.

“Qualifying for the NCAA National Championships is hard to do because there are limited spots and there are so many things that have to go right,” Cole said. “I think the ladies have one of the best opportunities they had in many, many years to qualify for the NCAA meet, but they still have to go out and run the race and put in the work in the next couple of weeks.”

The Falcons have never qualified for the national meet as a team. The NCAA Championship meet will be held on Nov. 23, and hosted by Hanover College in Indiana.