Hawks trio of runners building for futureThe Dickinson State cross country team is further along than Mike Nekuda ever expected them to be at the end of his first season as head coach.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
The Dickinson State cross country team is further along than Mike Nekuda ever expected them to be at the end of his first season as head coach.
The Blue Hawks have three runners competing in the NAIA national championship races Saturday at Vancouver, Wash.
Junior Roberto Quintero will run the men’s 8K race at 11:30 a.m. MST. Junior Gladys Rotich and sophomore Brittany Young compete in the women’s 5K that follows at 12:45 p.m. at the Vancouver National Historic Site.
“You preach to them all season that the work is going to pay off,” Nekuda said. “Sometimes it’s hard to see. When you’re practicing a lot, doing a lot hard work, sometimes you lose focus of the goal and it’s nice to be rewarded at the end of the season.”
Nekuda, who was hired late in the summer and didn’t arrive in Dickinson until early August, said he had no idea what to expect from the team he inherited this season.
As the year wore on though, he saw glimmers of hope.
Times were improving and DSU’s runners were racing alongside good competition.
The three going to nationals qualified at the Frontier Conference meet, where Quintero busted out a personal-best run of 26 minutes, 2.2 seconds to finish 10th.
Rotich finished sixth in the 5K with a time of 19:15.6. Young also qualified with her 10th-place time of 19:28.7.
“I knew we’d probably get one or two of those three, but I didn’t think all three of them would do it on the same day,” Nekuda said.
Young, who followed Nekuda to DSU from Dakota State, said she never expected to reach the national meet. She has goals of cracking the top 50 at the national meet and setting a new personal record by finishing the race in less than 19 minutes.
Young said the three Blue Hawks going to nationals are using the trip as a springboard to the future.
“It’s a really big step for us,” Young said.
Nekuda, who was a senior on Black Hills State’s national runner-up team in 2007, said he wants the three runners to view Saturday’s meet as the first step toward building the program into a national contender.
“These kids come back, they tell everyone else that this is the real deal, this is what we need to do to get there,” Nekuda said. “Not only is it a good experience for them, they come back and they share it with everybody else and it lights a fire under everybody else. It creates that drive in the rest of the team to try and get there next year.”