The Dickinson State women's cross country team is slated to win its fourth consecutive North Star Athletic Association championship, according to a preseason coaches poll released Aug. 20. The lady Blue Hawks returned every runner from the 2017 season, so not only do they have the tools take the conference crown, but the belief that they can.
"Confident. Very confident," junior Jacey Wilson said. "I have total faith in what the girls did this summer. With what we've seen at the first practices, I'm guessing we're going to be the strongest season that DSU has seen in history, which is what we're hoping for, what we're going for. Even the guys too, we want to finish strong and better than we did last year."
Head coach Shayne Wittkopp is eyeing Waldorf University (Iowa) as the greatest threat though, as Marissa Kuik, who won the NSAA conference meet last year, is returning and Wittkopp knows the Warriors coach has been busy recruiting to back Kuik up.
"We are out there at practice every day thinking about how we're not going to let anybody make up any ground," Wittkopp said.
Wilson placed second in the conference championship when Kuik took the win and she's more than motivated to eclipse her performance.
"I got edged out of winning the conference championship, which was pretty devastating," Wilson said. "I'm going more towards sub-18's and lower-18's. I reach (18 minutes and 48 seconds), which was one of my best times ever. I'm hoping to hit lower 18s; right now I have it at 18:20. If I can get better, that'd be great."
Wilson and sophomore Bailey Smith, who finished fourth in the NSAA meet, are likely to lead the pack again, but sophomore Lisa Townsend put in work during the summer and could crack the top of the team.
"She's the type of girl that will go to practice in the summer thinking about the first day of practice," Wittkopp said. "She's not out there just logging junk mileage. She is very, very motivated. She's got a good attitude as far as that goes."
Track athlete and former Blue Hawk basketball player Paitton Herbst is also thrown into the mix after winning the 600-meter race, 800-meter and the mile in the 2017-18 indoor track season.
"It's one of those situations where we have four girls and I really can't tell you (who will be at the top)," Wittkopp said. "They're going to run No. 1 for us at different points in the season all season."
The men's team is also favored to win its fourth-straight NSAA conference championship. The Blue Hawks lost two talented athletes in Chris Moreno and Daniel Aguirre, but gained some skilled runners as well, so just as it was last year, a conference victory will be a challenge.
"You can't really take it for granted," senior Tristen Guillot said of the poll. "I know some other school went shopping for some good guys, good runners, but we did the same. We have a good team, other schools have a good team, so I'm looking forward to it."
Guillot and fellow senior Rodney Henry will share the one and two spots on the team, with junior Ernest Franssen and sophomore Hunter Flynn close behind.
"I'd like to get in the 25's for the 8K this year. That's kind of been a goal of mine," Guillot said. "I was really close last year-two seconds off-so I'm really looking forward to doing that."
There are a few new faces on the men's squad in Tymer Goss, a young runner from Sheridan, Wyo., who will be challenged by mileage as he was an excellent 400- and 800-meter runner.
Michael Larios is a non-transfer who runs long distance recreationally and impressed Wittkopp with his times, thus joining the squad. Nestor Vasquez, a transfer from Bakersfield Community College (Calif.), does have a cross country background and will likely fall into the sixth or seventh spot on the men's team.
The teams are focused on building a mileage base ahead of the season opener on Sept. 7 in Moorhead, Minn., but the ultimate goal is to peak in November for the conference and potentially, the NAIA national meet.
"It's always make sure their healthy when they need to be the healthiest and make sure they're running the fastest when they need to run the fastest," Wittkopp said.