Allison Young- Staff Writer
GRINNELL, IA—After cruising through a short, flat course at their Sept. 2 Augustana Twilight season opener, the 55th Les Duke Invite, held on Sept. 10, tested the guts of the Defender cross country team.
“The course was really, really sloppy and wet, which really slowed down the race and made it a much more difficult race than it would normally be for us,” said Head Coach Nate Wolf.
Despite the tough course and the absence of several key runners on both the men’s and women’s teams, the men earned sixth place among 17 teams. The Defender women captured fourth place out of 14 teams, losing only to NCAA Division III schools.
“Wartburg, Augustana from Illinois, Cornell, Carleton are all really good, well-coached teams that typically are pretty highly rated within the NCAA Division III,” Wolf said. “So it was good to be able to see some teams that we don’t always see and race against them and see how we stack up.”
When team captain and front-runner Justine Van Zee was forced to step off the merciless course due to health issues, junior veteran Audrey Brooks kicked took the initiative and led the team to the finish line of the 6,000-meter race. Brooks earned individual recognition, finishing ninth out of 201 competitors. Julia Bos also “ran very, very well to pace the ladies’ team,” finishing thirteenth overall and second for the team.
The women Defenders’ next highest scorers placed as follows: Erika Douma, Erica De Schiffart, Kelsey Lewis, Erin Bandstra and Miranda Moss, respectively. De Schiffart, a junior from British Columbia, refused to let the grueling course intimidate her as she competed in her first collegiate race since injuring her knee in high school.
“She [De Schiffart] finished fourth on the team, which is a very good first race for her,” Wolf said. “I was very happy for her.”
On the men’s side, upperclassmen Sam Wensink and Adam Daane came through. The pair finished 20th and 21st, respectively, in the 234-competitor field.
“It was probably Adam Daane’s best race,” Wolf said.
Nick VanderKooi and Ian Manske, the third and fourth scorers for the men, maneuvered the three loops of the 8,000-meter course to finish 29th and 50th, respectively. Freshman Luke Gilliland stepped up to finish fifth for the team in the absence of three senior men who did not race due to injury precaution.
“I think if both would have been full strength, we could have won the women’s and probably finished second or third on the men’s side,” Wolf said. “I thought the people that we had really ran well.”
Coach Wolf’s goal moving forward is to get the team healthy and injury-free as they prepare for their next meet, the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 24. The Les Duke Invite served as good preparation for the stiff competition and tough course in Minneapolis.