The Dickinson State men’s and women’s cross country teams will officially embark upon the brand new 2020-21 season on Saturday, at the Herb Barkley Invitational at Dakota State. Despite losing some key pieces, and dealing with the pandemic, the team is ready to give its best.

After a long and questionable offseason based on the pandemic, both the men and women are ready to finally compete and see how they rank amongst those competing at the invitational. For head coach Shayne Wittkopp, the main goal is seeing how the team can do on the conference course.

“As far as cross country goes, the most important event of the year is the conference meet and we’re still a ways away from that,” Wittkopp said. “Really, what we’re looking to accomplish right now is … we get a good look at the conference course and get a good look at the rest of the conference competition and kinda get our feet wet.”

As seen in all sports, the beginning of the season may be a little rusty, but it’s all about how the team does in the end of the season that truly matters. The perfect way to prepare for the end of the season, run it in the beginning.

“I don’t expect real amazing times right away,” Wittkopp said. “It’s just one of those things that can help dust the cobwebs off and see where we’re at.”

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While some may think the athletes are just preparing for a typical early season run, Wittkopp has confidence in his runners and their times based on how the previous practices have been going.

“As far as how we’ve been looking so far, the last three weeks I feel like we’ve made a lot of strides,” Wittkopp said. “We look pretty good in practice, we can handle sustained efforts a long distance now and we’re starting to look like we’re starting to get into cross country shape.”

On the men's team, the majority of the runners will be upper class-man with primarily juniors and seniors. With seniors Hunter Flynn and Dakota Mansfield helping lead the team. However, junior Delano Lilly will be returning to the pack and helping bring a needed boost to the team. Sophomore Jake Smith, who is running his second year of cross country -- ever, is looking to capitalize on another strong season for the Blue Hawks.

As for the women’s team, the loss of elite runners Lisa Townsend and Jacey Wilson will be felt throughout the season as the two front runners made a strong name for both themselves and the entire cross country team. Wittkopp hopes the duo’s legacy will continue to inspire the runners this season.

“It’s hard to replace Jacey and Lisa any time,” Wittkopp said. “But the good news is that we have a really good recruiting class.”

Some of the runners to look for this season include freshman Piper Perez of Burns, WY; Alexius Miller of Bowman, N.D; and Ali Cunningham of Glasgow, MT look to bring on a new era of star Blue Hawks to the women’s team. The trio will continue to be led by upperclassmen such as junior Emily Kuehn, projected to be a strong runner for the team. Bailey Smith, the lone senior on the team, hopes to bring good fortune to her teammates, but is currently trying to heal from unspecified injuries, as said by Wittkopp.

Despite losing some strong competitors, and dealing with some injuries, the team looks to continue to be on the path to success once again this season, starting on Saturday.

The races are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. MST