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DSU’s Carter, Patrick ready for nationals

Courtesy Photo by Stormie Sickler Dickinson freshman Dante Carter, left, and senior Denis Patrick run during the Frontier Conference meet on Nov. 8 in Lewiston, Idaho. Carter finished runner-up at meet and Patrick placed 11th.

After nearly three months of competing and countless hours of training, it all comes down to one race.

The hard work has paid off and sophomore Dante Carter and senior Denis Patrick who will represent the Dickinson State men’s cross country team at the NAIA national championships beginning at 10:30 a.m. today in Lawrence, Kan.

After the Blue Hawks finished third at the Frontier Conference championships on Nov. 8, the men’s team was just shy of competing together in Lawrence. But as disappointed as the two runners, and head coach Mike Nekuda, were, it’s fitting the two runners competing have been training partners for the past two seasons.

“It was very disappointing to hear that our team didn’t make it, but one consolation for me is having Denis here because the only person that I truly strategize with is him,” Carter said. “Although I do run for my team, the only person that I truly run with in the race is him.”

Patrick added: “I was more excited to go as a team, but since we couldn’t go as a team it’s kind of disappointing. But now our goal is to make All-American.”

Carter and Patrick are no strangers to nationals. Both runners participated last season but didn’t finish as high as they hoped. Patrick finished in 88th place, while Carter placed 112th. Nekuda said both runners have drastically increased their personal record times this season, Carter by 58 seconds and Patrick by 20. With the significant lowering, Nekuda firmly believes if his runners perform well, they can finish in All-American range.

“We’re definitely ready to go, you can just tell in these guys,” Nekuda said. “I just got done talking to them saying you don’t want to get a false perception that it’s going to get easier because we’re backing off at the end of the season. The race is still going to be the toughest race of the year and it’s going to be painful. But we’re backing off to where our bodies should be able to run faster.”

Both Carter and Patrick have been named All-Americans during the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons, but never in cross country. In fact, if either finishes in the top 30, they will be the second, and possibly third, DSU cross country runners to achieve All-American status. Nekuda is confident in his runner’s abilities to finish in All-American range, but Carter is keeping his expectations level.

He said the ultimate goal is to just compete and there are many factors to consider on race day, like if his competitors run at a higher level than normal or if he or Patrick have an off day. In the end, his goal “is to get out there, just race and hopefully are awarded with a plaque.”

Since the beginning of the season, Nekuda had his eyes set on Patrick and Carter as shoe-ins to make nationals. Patrick, a transfer from Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, came to DSU last season with his brother Daniel. Initially Patrick had issues getting acclimated to Nekuda’s training, philosophies and the cold weather. But after getting used to the switch, Nekuda said he couldn’t have worked with a better runner like Patrick in such a short time.

“What an amazing guy, he and his brother,” Nekuda said. “He’s done everything I’ve asked him to and sometimes when you get junior college players, they’ve had a high school coach, they’ve had a college coach, you wonder if they’re going to buy into the system. He’s done everything I’ve asked him to, he’s got two All-Americans, one indoors, one outdoors ... Denis has had a great career for the little time that he’s been here, I couldn’t be more proud of the guy.”

Carter has become DSU’s cross county secret weapon and the runner Nekuda counted on finishing in the top spot for his team. This season, Carter finished first overall at the Mount Marty Invitational on Oct. 26, finished second at the Frontier Conference championships, which earned him his spot at nationals, Frontier Conference Runner of the Week and was named an All-Conference runner.

The sophomore’s confident attitude and winning mindset has kept him alive in all his races and a big reason why he is competing at nationals.

“Dante is a fierce competitor, he doesn’t care who he lines up against,” Nekuda said. “He’s going to try and beat them and that’s his best quality. He has that swag in his step. Sometimes it gets him called arrogant or this or that, but it can win him a lot of races too.”

With the major goal of All-American in the back of the their minds, Nekuda said both Carter and Patrick will not settle for mediocrity and will push their hardest this season and leave it all out on the course.

“We talked about it earlier, we’re either going to crash and burn trying to get there,” Nekuda said. “We’re not going to be conservative and settle for 80th, we’re going to get up there and race and whatever happens happens. We’re not going to have any regrets coming back.”

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.