Dickinson cross country runner, senior Brady Yoder, always loved the sport. He loved thrill of competing against others, and himself. But it wasn’t the individual aspect that made him truly fall in love with the sport, but being a part of a strong team environment. Throughout his five years as a cross country athlete he won many awards, including placing first at the state meet in 2019. And yet, to him, his best achievement didn’t occur until Saturday at the 2020 North Dakota State Meet.

Going in, all eyes were on Yoder, heavily favored to be the back-to-back defending champion. As the race drew closer, Yoder said he was more excited for his team than for himself.

“Everybody was just really excited ... I think we all knew we were going to do well at the state meet,” Yoder said. “This team was special, we had that confidence that we were going to do what we got to do, that state meet was the one that truly mattered. Everyone kind of knew we were going to run our best race there.”

Yoder’s respectful rival, senior Sean Korsmo of Bismarck, was also heavily favored. The two have always been neck-and-neck, exchanging first- and second-place finishes throughout their careers. But Yoder said he wasn’t focused onKorsmo, it was doing the best he could for his team, then himself.

After running his best time of 15:35.37 at the WDA Championships, and after a strong two weeks of preparation, he was ready. But as Yoder stepped to the starting line, his confidence running high, he was only focused on one thing -- the team.

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“That’s so important, being able to have that and be able to be a part of something bigger than yourself, it is so rewarding and so fulfilling,” he said. “Being able to step to the starting line and know you’re running for something bigger than yourself and there’s a bigger goal in play there."

With thick blankets of snow covering the grass, piercing wind biting the runners’ skin, the difficulty for the runners was at a painful high. Many runners struggled, but for Yoder and his teammates, they ran like they were used to it. Mainly because they were.

“I don’t think the weather played too big of a factor on some of the top guys, these guys are always going to perform regardless,” Yoder said. “Everyone is just that competitive and strong and I think our guys especially showed that type of toughness all the way throughout from top to bottom.”

With each step taken in the race, Yoder was closing in on his final cross country race as a Dickinson Midget. Down the line, Yoder pushed with all his might to finish the best he could, never looking back, only running forward.

In the end, Yoder placed fourth, his lowest placement of the season, finishing with a time of 15:37.13, only trailing his season best by mere seconds. Korsmo placed first. However, as a team, Dickinson High placed second with a point total of 89, only falling to Bismarck Century by 14 points.

The team was only projected to be top five in the state. After Saturday, as team, the Midgets shocked the entire state by showing it was the second best in all of North Dakota.

For Yoder, who started competing in cross country in eighth grade after garnering success in track and field, earned many achievements in his career. In his five years, Yoder was named the Gatorade Athlete of the Year in his sophomore and junior year, and placed first at the state meet last season -- the first athlete to do it at Dickinson High in over 40 years.

Many athletes would take either of those credentials and say that was their best achievement. Not Yoder. Instead, in his five years, his biggest accomplishment came when his team celebrated the high score, not the individual ones. To Yoder, the team will always be first, his individual awards second.

“Runner-up (on Saturday) was totally by far the biggest achievement we’ve been able to accomplish. I consider that my biggest accomplishment,” he said. “Just seeing how far the culture has come, it’s so special. How we’ve come as a team to get that type of achievement, I would have never guessed two-three years ago that this team would be where it’s at today and all the hard work that’s been added to it, it was just such a special accomplishment for this team.”

Just as with everything in life, all good things have a finish line that will be crossed. For Yoder’s cross country career, it happened on Saturday.

“It definitely didn’t hit me when I was crossing the line, I was too tired then and too focused,” Brady said. “But it hit after the race with the guys. It was just crazy, it goes by so fast, but it’s just such a great experience and it’s just so much fun.

“I think the way it ended, it doesn’t hurt whatsoever. You’re going to miss it, but it’s so worth it. All the experiences and being able to accomplish, especially yesterday, we were just having fun and celebrating that yesterday. It’s just been so great.”

Yoder talked about the life lessons he learned throughout his five years in competing in high school cross country.

“The biggest thing is hard work, putting the hard work in, you can do whatever you want to do,” he said. “But the thing is, with hard work you have to be consistent in cross country. We take one day off every two weeks pretty much at max. You can’t just work hard every couple days, you have to be consistent with your training. If you do the hard work, you plan for your goals and you’re going to reach them more than likely.”

Along with that, in a sport that resembles non-stop hard working, tough grinded motivation and the need to always push oneself to get better individually, Yoder said he learned more about being a part of a team there than anywhere else.

“Having a great team and coaching staff around you that makes your goals possible is such a blessing and a great experience,” he said. “Being able to achieve so much success as a team and being so selfless, that’s just what I’m always going to remember about this team and how much fun we’re always having. It’s just been a lot of fun and it’s just been such a great experience.”

Yoder has yet to decide what the future holds, but is planning on running cross country in college.