By Turner Blaufuss
Fall is here and the MSUM Cross Country teams are gearing up for another season.
This year’s Dragons will have a new look with a great balance of experience and skilled youth. Back for his fourth season to lead both squads for MSUM is coach Ryan Milner, and he’s taken notice of his teams’ improvement.
“A lot of people have been living up to the expectations and doing even better than we expected,” Milner said. “We have a nice balance. Not only returning depth, but also new talent in the mix.”
The men’s team, which is ranked sixth in the NSIC, includes returning seniors Spencer Ruebke, Jason Dowell and sophomores Cody Christ and Brady Speicher, who will be taking on leadership roles.
“On the men’s side we’re deep. We have Spencer Ruebke back and he should contend for all conference. Jason Dowell was all-conference last year and should have a good chance again this year,” Milner said. “The talent and racing experience makes a big difference. It should be pretty exciting.”
The men’s team has a total of 18 runners with four seniors. Along with Ruebke and Dowell, Nick Anderson and Jack Peterson will look to contribute in their final year as Dragons. The younger runners will be on their heels to round out the top five runners.
“On the men’s side we’re trying to see who will be our top five. We have a more experienced and competitive team than last year,” Milner said. “I anticipate seeing more improvement this season.”
The women’s roster is a similar case, with experience and new runners who have excelled as they received a number five ranking in the NSIC preseason polls. Molly Montonye returns for her junior season and is the front-runner for the Dragons. Montonye was All-NSIC last season and will likely repeat this year.
“It’s similar to the men,” Milner said. “We’re going to have people fighting for the number five spot and hopefully the pack can run with Molly (Montonye).”
Savannah Link is the lone returning senior on the women’s roster and will also be one of the top runners, with a good shot at making all conference. Milner noted MaKenzie Smith and Emily Mammenga were also big returns for his team.
“Mackenzie Smith is more experienced and mature this year and we expect to see some big jumps from her this year,” Milner said. “Emily Mammenga is healthy and she has a good chance at making all conference.”
An advantage of all the experienced runners returning for the Dragon teams is the excellent chemistry. The Dragon squads practice together and the runners are a close-knit group.
“There’s an identity forging that we’re not just a men’s team and a women’s team, but we’re a cross country team,” Milner said. “We have nearly 30 people out practicing together, all on the same page all striving for the same thing.”
Augustana College is the front runner for the men’s side of the NSIC and University of Minnesota Duluth is the favorite to win the women’s conference title. The women are ranked ninth in the region and only the top four advance to nationals.
“I think the men could get into the top 10 in the region as the season goes on,” Milner said. “If we keep up with the conference favorites we should do very well.”
The Dragons’ first meet is the Randy Smith Invitational in Glyndon, Minn., on Friday Sept. 12.