MIAC cross country teams ready to run into 2016 season

MIAC cross country teams ready to run into 2016 season

BLOOMINGTON, MINN. – The starter's pistol is about to sound to start the 2016 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) cross country season, and a pair of Northfield, Minn., teams will try to continue a pair of impressive championship streaks, while the rest of the league hope this is the year someone else can take the throne.

The St. Olaf men have built a dynasty, not only in the MIAC but also in all of Division III, over the past four years. Head Coach Phil Lundin's squad have won four-straight MIAC titles and look to make it five in a row in 2016. Hamline won three in a row before that, and since 2007 only the Oles (five) and Pipers (three) have hoisted the MIAC championship trophy.

The Carleton women have been similarly impressive, as they aim for a fourth-straight MIAC title in 2016. Head Coach Donna Ricks' squad has not only won three conference championships in a row, they've been the champ in five of the last seven seasons, with only St. Olaf (2010) and Gustavus (2012) interrupting the Knights' streak.

After the Oles (34 points), the men's championship was highly competitive a year ago, with Saint John's (96) edging Carleton (99) and St. Thomas (107) and Gustavus (109) for second, as just 13 points separated spots two through five in the standings. Bethel (160) finished sixth, Hamline (194) was seventh, Saint Mary's (214) took eighth, and Macalester (228), Augsburg (255) and Concordia (329) rounded out the final three spots of the men's 2015 MIAC standings.

The women's race saw the Knights (61) complete their three-peat with a nine-point win over St. Thomas (72). St. Olaf (97) was third, Saint Benedict (107) finished fourth, and Macalester (129) grabbed the final spot in the top five. Gustavus (150) was sixth, Concordia (192) took seventh, and Bethel (244), Augsburg (261) and Hamline (273) completed the top 10. St. Catherine (275) and Saint Mary's (365) occupied the final two spots in the women's 2015 MIAC standings.

The MIAC success continued at the Regional and National levels, as the St. Olaf men won the Central Region title and earned a third-straight top-four finish at the NCAA Championships, as the team finished fourth. MIAC individuals also made a splash at nationals, with four runners in the top nine. Ole teammates Jake Campbell and Paul Escher were fifth and sixth, respectively, Carleton's Hart Hornor was seventh, and Bethel's Matt Berens finished ninth.

On the women's side, St. Thomas and Carleton reversed their MIAC finishes, as the Tommies won the Central Region title and the Knights finished second, and St. Olaf also earned a trip to the National meet. There, Carleton led the way with a 17th-place finish, St. Thomas was 26th and the Oles finished 27th. Knights senior Ruth Steinke led the way with a fifth-place finish and was joined by three other MIAC runners in the top 32 – St. Olaf's Piper Bain (19th overall), Macalester's Kimber Meyer (30th overall) and Bethel's Annika Halverson (32nd overall).

Between a pair of exciting conference championship races and outstanding performances at the NCAA Regional and National Championship meets, the 2015 season ended on several incredibly high notes. The 2016 season hopes to pick up right where that stellar campaign left off, and write it's own story of intrigue, excitement and success.

Though some considerable stars – especially on the men's side – graduated in May, there is still a ton of talent back in 2016, as half – of 15 of 30 – All-Conference runners return and 12 of 20 Honorable Mention (HM) performers are also back. The men's side will have a new champ, as the top eight runners all graduated, but seven of 15 All-Conference runners and six of 10 HM honorees are back. Macalester's Meyer returns to defend her MIAC individual title and lead a group of eight All-Conference and six HM runners back on the women's side.

In addition to Meyer, there is a lot of All-Conference talent back for the MIAC women. MIAC champ Carleton brings back All-MIAC runners Emily Kaegi, Samantha Schnirring and Dorrian Jaffe, as well as HM performers Pombie Silverman and Lindsey Chavez. St. Thomas hopes to repeat its region title behind the return of All-Conference runner Bridget McGivern and HM honorees Alex Fossum and Kayla Janto. St. Olaf has Jamie Hoornaert (All-MIAC) back and Saint Benedict returns Mattia Hendrickson (HM).

Concordia has a pair of decorated runners back as Kaya Baker earned All-MIAC honors and Brianna Gruenberg was an Honorable Mention performer. Augsburg will again be led by Taybri Irving, who earned All-MIAC honors in 2015. Sadie Novak-Klug returns to lead Gustavus after the Gusties graduated their top two runners. Bethel's Annika Halverson, second last year, will be studying abroad, but the Royals return their No. 2 MIAC finisher in Lindsay Johnson. Hamline has Meg Griffin back atop its lineup after a breakout rookie season. St. Catherine has everyone back, including top MIAC finisher Courntey Kirkeide, in 2016, and Saint Mary's also brings back most of its top talent, led by sophomore Erika Thiel.

Though the men said goodbye to the top eight from a year ago, there are a lot of decorated runners returning ready to ascend into those spots. St. Olaf returns three All-MIAC runners – Joe Coffey, Keith Ketola and Paul Timm – as well as HM performers Sean Bjork and Jacob Eggers from last year's championship squad. Saint John's has Ryan Bugler (All-MIAC) back to lead the way in 2016, and St. Thomas also brings back an All-MIAC runner in Ephraim Bird.

Gustavus has a pair of All-MIAC finishers back in Evan Jones – the top returner after finishing ninth in 2015 – and Thomas Knobbe, and Carston Dammann (HM) also returns. All-MIAC HM runner Jovan Newsum is back to lead Saint Mary's, and Macalester and Augsburg also have an HM selection back thanks to the return of Lachlan Hinwood and Abdul Salan, respectively. Carleton's Jerry Cook-Gallardo (HM) will be studying abroad this fall, so the Knights' top returner is Walter Edstrom, who was an All-MIAC HM finisher in 2014. Bethel brings back its No. 2 runner in sophomore Evan Hatton to lead the Royals in 2016. Hamline's James Logan is back after just missing HM honors in 2015, and Concordia has its top runner back in Ryan Turner.

With the excitement for the new season at an all-time high, the wait for the start of the season is almost over. Most of the conference's teams will run their first race over Labor Day weekend, with the rest starting their season the following weekend. There's a big race on the schedule every weekend between Sept. 3 and Oct. 15, before the teams take a week off to prepare for the culmination of the fall season.

All the regular-season races will serve as warm-ups for the main event, the 2016 MIAC Cross Country Championships. The conference meet will again be held at Como Golf Course in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 29. However, this year the action will start a little earlier. The start times have been moved up, and the men will run their 8k race at 11 a.m., with the women's 6k to follow at noon. An awards ceremony will follow to honor the team champions and All-Conference (Top 15) and Honorable Mention (16-25) runners.

In addition to this look at the season ahead, the full MIAC preview - with a conference outlook and team-by-team previews - will be released in advance of the 2016 MIAC Cross Country Championships in an effort to promote the sport's marquee event. However, below are helpful links to track all the MIAC cross country action this fall, including links to men's and women's schedules, the championship home page and team pages for each MIAC squad.

MIAC Men's Cross Country Links: | Home Page | 2016 MIAC Championships | 2016 Schedule | Team Pages | Archives | Recordbook |

MIAC Women's Cross Country Links: | Home Page | 2016 MIAC Championships | 2016 Schedule | Team Pages | Archives | Recordbook |