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Nekuda’s choice to step down at DSU

Dickinson State track and field head coach Mike Nekuda isn’t hard to figure out.

Any of his athletes or fellow DSU coaches know Nekuda truly cares about the athletes he coaches.

So, it was difficult for Nekuda when he informed his team last Friday that he wouldn’t be returning next season.

After four years coaching the cross country team and in the midst of his first season as head coach of the Blue Hawks’ track and field team, Nekuda and his family have decided to make a change in their lives. They will move to Colorado at the end of the outdoor track season.

His last day at the university is May 31, a week after the NAIA outdoor championships.

“I’m leaving because my wife has been basically letting me follow my dreams for the last six years,” Nekuda said. “Since we got married, it’s always been our dream to live on the Front Range or Black Hills, and I feel like my job is holding us back to what we want to do as a family and where we want to be and where we want to set our roots in.”

The decision to leave DSU wasn’t easy and came rather quickly.

After Nekuda’s wife, Kerry, accepted a new job as a pharmacy manager in Castle Rock about three weeks ago, it was clear the move was the best choice in regards to raising their family. The Nekudas and their three-month-old son, Corbin, will also be just 20 minutes away from her parents.

Nekuda was named the head track and field coach in November after former coach Pete Stanton was hired as DSU’s head football coach. In his tenure, he has coached 16 NAIA all-Americans — five in the 2014 NAIA indoor track season — and one national champion in Dante Carter.

From the time Nekuda started at DSU, he and Stanton became close. Nekuda said he will always be grateful for Stanton giving him a chance and will always be one of his biggest coaching influences.

“Mike’s done just an outstanding job in the years he’s been here,” Stanton said. “One thing that stands out with Mike is he cares about our athletes and established a tremendous report with all of our athletes across the board. Mike and I had a lot of the same philosophies and got the chance to work together for three years, and obviously on the distance end of things he brought those young men and women a long ways.”

Coaching and working with athletes comes second nature to Nekuda and is a career path he was born to do. After telling the team about the change in plans, Nekuda’s athletes were disappointed but rallied around him and supported his decisions.

“It’s a heartbreaker, it’s the only way to describe it,” said Stormie Sickler, a junior cross country and middle distance runner. “It’s going to be hard coming back next year with a new coach. I told coach after he told us, ‘I think I speak for everyone when we say we’re not upset with you and it’s family first and we totally understand.’ We care about him and want him to be happy and be with his family.”

Nekuda added: “More than anyone, I want to thank the people that I’ve coached because that’s what it’s all about. The people who have put in the hard work and done things the right way.”

Senior hurdler Nathan Magstadt said the news is both motivating and also worrisome for the returners, like Sickler.

But with just a handful of meets left — the Blue Hawks will compete in the Sioux City (Iowa) Relays on Saturday — the team is more driven than ever to try and go out on top for their coach.

“Being this is now coach’s last hurrah, not that he would put any less effort in, it’s even more like we want to do it for ourselves and for coach,” Magstadt said. “It’s both sides of the coin. It’s sad for the guys who are going to be here next year, but it’s also motivating because we want to do it with coach and go out with a bang.”

With his coaching career on a temporary hiatus, Nekuda said he isn’t concerned about what is going to happen to him, and is looking forward to his new chapter and being close to his family.

“I’m looking forward to 45-degree Januarys,” he said with a smile. “In all reality, I really don’t know which direction I’m going as far as career wise. But I’m highly motivated and a successful person. I’m going to find something I like to do and I can be successful at, I can guarantee you that.

“I’m just looking forward to being down in that area and spending time with family and doing lots of fun things like that.”

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.