With three teams in the top four of the Central Region, and another in 7th, the Northern Sun Conference boasts some tough competition. With the household name of Augustana (S.D.) looking to repeat as champions, and Sioux Falls, Minnesota State, and MSU-Moorhead peaking at the right time, we are in for a treat this weekend.
The biggest team battle will likely be between Augustana and Sioux Falls. The Vikings most recently raced their "A" squad at the Jim Drew/Tori Neubauer Invite where they earned a 2nd place finish as a team. Aaron Runge led the program and is continuing to his very successful 2018 season. His PR is from last year’s conference meet and it looks like he is promised to improve upon that mark this year.
We saw Augustana compete at the Roy Griak Invite prior to Jim Drews where they claimed a victory in the D2 category with a seven point gap between them and Sioux Falls. Nathan Schroeder and Aaron Runge were both inside the top 10. Wyatt McLeod, Bonheur Mvuyekure, and Jesus Urtusuastegui were the bottom three scorers who helped secure the victory.
It looks like the Vikings have a definitive scoring four in Aaron Runge, Nathan Schroeder, Wyatt McLeod, and Bonheur Mvuyekure. The fifth spot looks to be interchangeable between Skylar DeJong and Jesus Urtusuastegui. One of those two will have the biggest impact this weekend.
While Augustana provides depth, Sioux Falls arguably has the best two runners in the conference (Mason Phillips and Steven Brown). These two placed 1-2 at the conference meet last year and will most likely need to do the same thing this year if they want to have a chance to unseat the Vikings.
Phillips hasn’t lost a race this year and finished almost 30 seconds ahead of the first Augustana runner at Roy Griak. Steven Brown was back in 7th place at this meet. Zach Lundberg and Jase Kraft were 10th and 12th and looked to secure a victory for the Panthers. What really hampered them was their fifth scorer Billy Beseman who finished in 56th place.
In their most recent meet at Mount Marty (where they earned a perfect score), Beseman still served as their fifth scorer, but was much closer in terms of time. Beseman has dropped his time from 27:19 earlier this year and now sits at 25:45. If he runs like this, Sioux Falls has a great shot at claiming the conference title.
Minnesota State is led by their two low sticks in Austin Pasch and Austin Yardley who most recently finished 5th and 11th at the Fort Hays State Tiger Open while leading Minnesota State to a 6th place team finish. As we go back another meet to Roy Griak, Pasch (3rd) and Yardley (11th) were once again inside the top 11 and served as the low-sticks for the Mavericks. It’s clear that these two should be toward the front this weekend, but the real uncertainty is around their #3, #4, and #5.
The Mavericks have used a combination of Andrew Ruiz (88th at FHSU), Isaiah Rabata (96th at FHSU), Christopher Groth (108th at FHSU), and Caleb Burke (30th at Griak) throughout this season. Burke looks to be the reliable number three scorer, especially when you consider that he was 10th at last year’s NSIC meet. He should be entering his peak fitness, but he didn’t run at FHSU so his status is still shaky for NSIC's.
If he does run, the Mavericks will need stellar performances from Rabata and either Ruiz or Groth in order to step into the top two of the meet.
MSU-Moorhead most recently raced at the NSIC Preview that saw them place 1st as a team. Josh Young and Nadir Yusuf have been the clear 1-2 scorers for the Dragons on the year and should mix it up towards the front as Young was 4th last year. Yusuf led the team at Griak this year in 24th place with Young behind him in 29th. Nick Marshall (55th), Hunter Kjelshus (77th), and Jay Biwer (86th) are the clear third, fourth, and fifth scorers who will be looking to close the gap between them and the two.
Biwer ran 27:14 at Griak and then came back to run 25:58 two weeks ago at the NSIC Preview, giving us reason to think that he is getting closer to the fitness that he was in last year. He’ll be the biggest player within the team dynamic for the Dragons this weekend.
Minnesota Duluth is another team that is worth keeping an eye on this weekend. They have two seniors in Luke Lahr and Isaac Overmyer who played a big part in propelling Duluth to a 2nd place team finish last year. Lahr just ran the fastest time of his cross country career three weeks ago and Overmyer is ahead of where he was at this point last year. That said, they’ll need big performances from their final three scorers in order to get back to where they finished last year.
1. Augustana (S.D).
2. Sioux Falls
3. Minnesota State
1. Mason Phillips (Sioux Falls)
2. Bashir Aidrus (SW Minnesota State)
3. Steven Brown (Sioux Falls)
4. Aaron Runge (Augustana (S.D.))
5. Austin Pasch (Minnesota State)