With six runners ready to go the distance, the Waldorf University women’s cross country team looks to continue making strides this season.
“The strength of this year’s team is our full roster,” Waldorf coach Kayla Kregel said. “Last year, we did not have a complete roster for all meets to be able to score and place as a team. This year, we have six motivated girls who want to make an impact on this program and that’s exciting.”
Kuik owns the top two fastest 5K performances in school history. The Coon Rapids, Minn. native set the school-record mark with a time of 20 minutes, 45 seconds in last year’s National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Seminole Valley Stampede. Widener posted the Waldorf’s third-fastest time ever in the meet as the Bridgeport, Neb. native crossed the finish line in 20:59.
Kuik also clocked the second-fastest 6K time in program history last season, closing out the Roy Griak Invitational in 26:59.4. Widener delivered the program’s fifth-fastest 6K time in the same race after turning in a time of 29:28.9.
The duo of Kuik and Widener concluded their first year of collegiate competition in the 2016 North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) Championships. Kuik battled to 16th (21:50.86) in the 5K race and Widener claimed 17th (21:52.19).
“Marissa Kuik and Marissa Widener both have played leadership roles during our first few weeks of practice and will continue to be great leaders for us on and off the course this year,” said Kregel, who enters her first season at Waldorf after spending the past two years as an assistant coach at NCAA Division III’s Penn State Erie, The Behrend College in Erie, Pa.
Kregel’s coaching resume includes being tabbed the 2016 United States Track & Field and Cross Coaches Association (USTFCCA) NCAA Division III Mideast Region Women’s Assistant Coach of the Year. During her tenure at Penn State Behrend, she helped lead the men’s and women’s cross country programs to Alleghany Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC) titles in 2015 and 2016. Kregel also coached four All-Americans and seven national qualifiers. The Lions also set 18 indoor and 13 outdoor school records during her tenure.
Set to start her first year at Waldorf, Kregel like the makeup of her team entering the 2017 campaign.
Junior Bailey Matthaidess joined the Warriors last year, transferring from Iowa Central Community College. The Tritons earned second in the 2015 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national meet and claimed fourth in 2016. Matthaidess owns a personal-record (PR) 5K time of 21:28 and a 6K PR of 26:00 from her junior college career.
“I’m excited to see her debut for Waldorf this fall,” Kregel said.
Kregel expects Matthaidess to help lead the team alongside Kuik and Widener. The Warriors also possess experience from returning senior Charley Buddenhagen, who will complement the team’s newcomers.
“Overall, these three girls, along with the experience from Charley and work ethic of our two other new runners, Katelynn Ramirez and Clara Roderick, our season is going to be filled with surprise PRs,” Kregel said. “These girls have no idea what their potentials are.”
Buddenhagen placed 28th (24:46.99) in last year’s NSAA Championships and she also ran the eighth-fastest 6K time with a finish of 33:48.5 during the 2016 Roy Griak Invitational.
Ramirez joins Waldorf’s program as a transfer from Scott Community College. She produced a personal-best 5K time of 23:25 and a personal-best 6K time of 30:09 while running for the Eagles. Roderick is a true freshman from Visalia, Calif.
The Warriors open the 2017 season this Friday in the Augustana Twilight, beginning at 8:30 p.m. at Sioux Falls, S.D. Waldorf will face stacked competition. Twenty teams from the NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III, NAIA and National Junior College Association (NJCAA) comprise the meet’s field and some teams are nationally-ranked.
“This competition will provide us with the ultimate opportunity to attach to some great runners and bring out the best in us at this point in the season,” Kregel said. “To be successful, we have to embrace the competition and not hold back.”
With the Warriors being pressured by formidable opponents, Kregel expects the 5K race to be a great challenge to start the year.
“Putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations and being aggressive should results in some first-race PRs and even our overall personal-bests for our runners,” Kregel said. “I’m excited to open up here, test where we are right now by training through this meet and see who steps up to the plate.”
The 2014 season was the last time Waldorf fielded a full women’s team, but the Warriors didn’t consistently record team scores and finished seventh in the now-defunct Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference (MCAC) that year. The 2016 campaign was a return to competition for Waldorf after a one-year hiatus.
Waldorf placed fifth in last year’s NSAA Championships, turning in a team score of 118 to top Valley City State University by 37 points. Dickinson State University won the conference title with 27 points, the University of Jamestown (48) locked up second, Viterbo (55) earned third and Dakota State University (110) took fourth to finish just eight points ahead of the Warriors.
Waldorf is shooting for an even stronger performance in this season’s NSAA Championships, scheduled for Nov. 4 at Jamestown, N.D.
“My expectation for this year’s group of women is to finish higher in the conference than what we did last year,” Kregel said. “We finished fifth, but top three is attainable with this group of girls, which will propel our women’s team in the right direction for future years.”
Six meets, including four races in Iowa, will allow the Warriors to show steady improvement as they prepare for the NSAA Championships. Chasing personal-record times is what the team’s six runners are seeking to accomplish as they help generate excitement within the program.
“My goal for our women’s team is to come together and pull each other to personal-best races all season long,” Kregel said. “Our girls are young, but if we run with confidence and push each other every day, we can achieve a higher finish in our conference and set ourselves up for a very successful future as a program.”