The time to race is finally here for the Dickinson State cross country team as four of its athletes touched down in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as they prepare for the highly anticipated NAIA National Championship.

For the four runners, two on the men’s team and two on the women’s team, the road to Friday’s competition has not been an easy. But with the competition finally just around the corner, the team hopes all the training, and patience, will have been worth it.

“We’re just grateful that we get a chance to do this,” Blue Hawks’ Cross Country Head Coach Shayne Wittkopp said. “The season has been so long to get to this point. We did have a tune up meet a couple weeks ago in Billings so we’re happy that we were able to knock off the rust there and get out and run the 8k for the men and 5k for the women.”

Dickinson State will be bringing more youth than experience to the national competition Friday, with three freshmen runners. The lone upperclassmen runner is senior Hunter Flynn, who placed seventh at the NSAA Conference Championship Meet with a time of 29:05.59. This is Flynn’s fourth time competing at the NAIA Championship.

Freshman Will Flowers will be making his official debut at the NAIA National Championship. Flowers placed eighth at the conference championship with a time of 29:10.32. Both Flynn and Flowers received NSAA All-Conference Awards for placing in the top 10, and received automatic bids to the NAIA Championships.

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On the women’s side, freshmen Ali Cunningham and Piper Perez will be making their debut at the NAIA National Championship. Perez, who was named the North Star Runner of the Week in the final week of October, led the Blue Hawks by placing fourth and finishing with a time of 20.44.89 at the conference meet. Cunningham followed Perez by placing fifth with a time of 20.51.60.

“What we’re looking at is that we’re building towards the future,” Wittkopp said. “ We’re not probably in a position for realistically, if we can be top 100, that would be fantastic. Even if we can get one runner in there.”

With the majority of winter being on the warmer climate range, and the indoor track and field season being played out, Wittkopp believes his players are fully ready and prepared for the upcoming race.

“It wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” he said. “If we had really had a brutal winter, and we just spent all winter on a treadmill it could have been bad. But 2021 threw us a bone and gave us a pretty open winter. It’s been challenging because it’s not been right after the season, but it’s been about as good as you can ask for.”

Regardless of what the future results hold, Wittkopp is looking forward to seeing his athletes give the best they can and believes all of their hard work and dedication will pay off.

“I’m proud of the kids and I’m really blessed to coach them,” he said. “I hope they get some enjoyment out of it and that they are refreshed, excited about next year for this event and the next five weeks for track and field because we’re not done yet there either.”

The women’s competition is scheduled for Friday at 10:30 a.m. with the men’s competition scheduled to begin at 11:15 a.m.