The NMU cross country team started out their season Friday, Aug. 28 in Houghton. They finished second of three, losing to host Michigan Tech while defeating Lake Superior State.
“It was a good meet for the beginning of the season; (to) kind of just see where we’re at,” said head coach Jennifer Ryan.
Leading the Wildcats this season are captains Jenny Wiedmeyer and Bibiane Mahy. The two redshirted last season and are now seniors. At the Michigan Tech meet, Mahy finished third and Wiedmeyer eighth.
“Both are very good runners,” said Ryan of her captains. “I expect those two to kind of be the top two and lead the team.”
Sophomore Nora Kiilunen, who was a top ten finisher in Houghton, is also expected to show strength this season. She was also a top runner last year. Two other athletes with potential to be top contenders are senior Maegan Hendershot and junior Kristen Schulz.
“[We] will have a pretty strong top five upperclassmen,” said Ryan, adding that she believes the five strong upperclassmen will fill the void left by Rebecca Holmquist who transferred and Kyle Richards who graduated.
The team also has several strong new runners. Among the newcomers to watch are sophomore transfer student Olivia Juntila, as well as freshmen Sarah Allen, Monica Markvardsen, Rita Woitas and Cara Crawford.
Ryan hopes that these girls will push the upperclassman ahead.
“Overall we have mostly a younger team,” she said. “In the future we will definitely be a force.”
Wiedmeyer agrees that the freshman will be a force to be reckoned with.
“[They can] be a strong base if not for this year at least for the years to come,” she said.
Ryan hopes to improve on their last season’s finish at the conference championships, where they finished eighth.
“We can definitely move up on that,” Ryan said. Ryan’s goal is to finish in the top five.
Wiedmeyer’s hopes for her team go beyond those of her coach’s. She hopes to finish in the top two in the conference and in the top four at Regionals, a goal she believes will be attainable.
While Ryan doesn’t expect her girls to race their fastest during these first couple meets, she does expect them to increase their fitness.
“We’re training pretty hard still right now [and] we’re doing some pretty hard workouts; the meets are kind of part of the hard workouts,” Ryan said.
The girls started practicing as a team in mid-August, but have been training throughout the summer.
“They have to be in pretty good shape by the time they get here. We can’t get them in shape in that short of time, we just try and make them faster,” says Ryan.
Wiedmeyer took her summer training very seriously and hopes her teammates did as well.
“Training the whole summer, my goal was to come back stronger than I was last year and that the entire team would be the same so we would have a good shot at nationals,” she said.
Up next for the ‘Cats is the Lake Superior Open in Sault Ste. Marie on Sept. 12.
The team will take fewer athletes to the meet to compete.
“The travel team gets smaller and smaller as the season goes [on],” said Ryan.
She explained that eventually only seven girls will travel to the final regional meet.
While not all 37 athletes will be running at LSSU, they will all get to race in the upcoming home meet.
The Cats will return home on Oct. 9th. The meet will be held at the new NMU Golf Course in Chocolay Township.