By Brad Blume
Sports Information Director
South Dakota School of Mines
RAPID CITY --- After a solid 2006 season, the South Dakota School of Mines men’s and women’s cross country teams prepare for the 2007 campaign a little stronger, more mature and with more numbers.
The Hardrocker men lose only two from last year’s squad while the Lady ‘Rockers field a full team for the first time in 10 years. And with the quality athletes back on the roster, SDM may just find themselves in the hunt at every meet and even represent the school once the national meet roles around.
On the men’s side, the Hardrockers lose Shane Hague (New Underwood) to eligibility and Nate Hicks (sophomore from Yankton).
“Shane will be greatly missed. He was one of our top runners last year,” said Hardrocker head coach Jerry Schafer. “Nate has decided to pursue other opportunities.”
Junior Andy Lein (Gordon, Neb.) will also sit this season out as a red shirt. The junior harrier will work on rehabbing a nagging ankle injury.
The top returning runner for SDM is Black Hawk native Kyle Kattke.
“He’s been our No. 1 top runner in the season the last two years,” Schafer said. He is back and is fit.”
Kattke is the lone senior on this year’s team. He finished 39th last fall at the NAIA Region III meet, clocking a time of 26 minutes and 42 seconds.
“He is a real steady runner and has improved steadily year in and year out,” Schafer said.
The coach added that if Kattke can get his 8-kilometer time under 26 minutes, it would put him at the front of the pack in most races this season.
“That would make him extremely competitive at the regional level,” Schafer added.
Another Hardrocker harrier that was successful in 2006 is Colton Reid (Colstrip, Mont.). After finishing 47th at the Region Meet last year and having some success during track, the junior is posed to run up front with Kattke this year.
Hardrockers Marcus Moor (left) and Andy Lein lead a pack of runners around the Robinsdale course last year during the South Dakota School of Mines Cross Country Meet. The 2007 meet is slated for Saturday starting at 10 a.m. Photo by Brad Blume
“He’s coming off an excellent track season and a good summer of training,” Shafer said of Reid. “He’s right up there with Kyle as far as training.”
SDM is looking for big contributions out of sophomore Marcus Moor (Kadoka) and senior Rob Hahn (Sioux Falls) as well.
“Marcus is coming off a huge summer where he put in a lot of miles. He has improved to the level that in practice he is right on Kyle’s and Colton’s (heels),” Schafer said. “Rob’s a few steps back but we expect him to be up their as the season progresses.”
New to the team is walk-on freshman Lucas Fried of Kodiak Alaska and Corban Haller of Sydney, Neb.
Fried was quite a find. He finished fourth in the Alaska State Cross Country Meet as well as finishing fourth at the Alaska State Track Meet in the 3,200-meter run.
“He��s very competitive and only about half a step off our lead pack,” Schafer said. “We are very excited about the prospect that by the end of the month he’ll be right up there with them and even has the potential to lead the pack. We are excited to have him in the program.”
Haller is another runner with some potential after excelling at the end of last year during high school track in Nebraska.
“We expect him to make some big strides within this first month of the season. He’s a little behind, but we expect him to catch up,” the coach added.
The Dakota Athletic Conference picked preseason favorites recently and to no surprise, Black Hills State was the favorite while Dickinson State was a close second. The Yellow Jackets had a Top 5 national ranking and the Blue Hawks snuck into the Top 25 as well. The Hardrockers were picked to finish ninth in the region and were unranked on the national level.
“We feel we are a little better then ninth in the region. We have been (better than ninth) the last couple years. We have a comparable team (in 2007) to the last few years, however we are (in 2007), for the most part, a year stronger.”
The Hardrockers did finish eighth at the Region III Meet in 2006 due mainly to some late season injuries and illness --- but prior to that, have been in the Top 5 and competitive for several years.
With an impressive group of runners in place, Schafer feels a Region III Top 5 performance is well in their reach as well a shot at a national ranking and possibly a trip to the NAIA meet in Kenosha, Wis.
“Ideally we would like to get our team to Nations. That’s always our goal and that’s what we are gearing toward,” Schafer said. “But we try to keep things in perspective and as long as we are improving, we continue to look for that type of effort.”
The Lady Hardrockers only had two women out last year and return just one for 2007. But with six runners on the roster, it not only gives the Hardrockers depth, it also spurs competition and brings new challenges to the team.
“It’s very exciting that we have a full women’s team. It does bring some challenges to the table that I haven’t had to deal with until the last couple of years,” Schafer said. “I am especially excited because of the women that we have out this year. They are training very well and probably ahead of where I expected them to be.”
Sophomore Samantha Diede (Huron) is the only returning team member. She competed well as a Hardrocker last year, and as a sophomore will have to step up, not only as a runner, but also as a leader of the team. “She’s struggling a little right now (physically). But we expected that she will be up with the front runners in a month or so,” Schafer said. “Sam’s already stepping up and showing some leadership. We are asking her to do some things that we normally wouldn’t ask a sophomore to do.”
SDM will add four freshmen and a junior transfer to the squad. Three of the freshmen were teammates in high school, all running for Rapid City Stevens.
Brittney Hovdenes and Kendra Crisman look to be the top recruits, having impressive high school careers for the Raider varsity squad.
“They are really fun to have on the team. They are training hard, but they also have a great attitude and a great sense of humor that keeps everything light,” Schafer said. “They seem fit into the program really well.”
Molly Vukelich also ran at RCS, but in a less active role. She along with Kim Kerce of Colorado Springs, Colo., are both newcomers to the sport in a sense.
“They are both fairly new to running. Molly ran at Rapid City Stevens one cross country season and Kim has been a distance runner for about a year,” Schafer said.
Add in junior Jessica Chretien, a transfer student from Oglala Lakota College and that completes the Lady Hardrocker squad.
“Jessica, Kim, Molly and Same are all right about the same level of training right now,” Schafer said. “That is a good situation as well. They are able to train together and pull each other along. It bodes well for improving the group over the course of the season.”
And after a decade away from team competition, Schafer said he will have to wait to determine what type of team he really has.
“For not having had a (full) team for 10 years and not watching the conference and the region, it’s really hard for me, at this early stage, to judge how well we are going to match up,” Schafer said.
The Yellow Jackets and Jamestown College are the favorites on the women’s side in the DAC. Both are ranked in the Top 10 for the NAIA.
“We have a couple of good conference teams that we are going against,” the coach added.
The Hardrockers begin the season Saturday, playing host to the SDMST meet at Robinsdale Park in Rapid City. The women’s race is slated for a 10 a.m. start with the men to follow. The course is very spectator friendly and should be quite a challenge as it is rated a 4 out of 5 in difficultness.
“It’s a challenging course in it of itself. It’s a tough course to open the season on. But it test us early so we can see where we are at and we can see how far we need to get,” Schafer said.
Along with the Hardrockers, BHSU, Montana State University-Billings and Rocky Mountain College will be participating.
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