Next fall, when the Colorado School of Mines cross country teams compete at Denver’s Washington Park, Molly Maksin plans to be cheering them on from the sidelines.
But, for now, she’s excited for her final season on the course, as she and her fellow Orediggers have a lot they want to accomplish between now and then.
The Mines cross country teams are quickly building on last year’s successes, as the women’s team placed first and the men’s team placed second in the Sept. 16 Roadrunners Invitational.
Last year, the men’s team won the NCAA Division II national title, with Dillon Powell claiming the individual title, and the women’s team took home the bronze. The teams are currently ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, among Division II programs.
Maksin, a graduate student who placed 12th at last year’s national meet, said she was recovering from an illness when she competed at the Sept. 16 Roadrunners Invitational. She was simply getting a workout in and helping pace a freshman runner and ended up placing seventh, which was a welcome surprise.
Coach Chris Siemers said he was happy with both teams’ performances at Washington Park, saying the men’s team mostly had younger runners competing to gain experience. The Orediggers had serious competition, including NCAA Division I team Air Force and several ranked Division II teams.
“It’s always tough when you get into the bigger invitationals because you’re lining up against several teams that are hungry and ready to race us,” Siemers said, adding that he feels the Orediggers have a target on their backs after their recent successes.
On Sept. 22, the Mines runners were out at Arvada’s Stenger Sports Complex training for their Oct. 6-7 meets in Colorado Springs and Chicago. Siemers said the teams are strategizing which runners will go to which meet for the final weekend of the regular season.
Maksin and Duncan Fuehne, a graduate student who finished third in the 2022 men’s national race, both planned to compete at the Chicago-area Lewis Crossover Invitational on Oct. 7. Fuehne said it’ll be his first meet of the year, as he traveled internationally late in the summer and wanted to have a big training block before competing again.
Sea-level races like Chicago are always fun, Maksin said, and she was excited to see how the younger runners did in their first sea-level race.
Afterward, the Orediggers will be back at Denver’s Washington Park Oct. 21 for the RMAC championship races. Maksin said it feels “like a home race” with so many Mines fans on the sidelines.
Fuehne said Mines will need that support Oct. 21, as it’ll be up against No. 2 Adams State. However the race turns out, he said, “It’ll be good competition and a chance to see where we’re at as a team.”
The finish line in Joplin
For the 2023 season, the Orediggers’ true finish line is the NCAA Division II nationals Nov. 18 in Joplin, Missouri. And there are plenty of obstacles on the course to replicating last year’s successes.
For the reigning national champions, Mines lost four of its seven top runners, including individual national champion Dillon Powell. Fuehne, graduate student Loic Scomparin, and redshirt sophomore Paul Knight returned, and Mines added promising transfer students Logan Bocovich and JP Rutledge, Siemers said.
“It’s a whole new season, a whole different team,” Siemers said of possibly repeating as national champions. “We’re racing a lot of strong competition. … We’re focused on what we can do to be the best we can. When we line up against those teams in November, hopefully we’re ready to defend the title.”
The Mines men’s program won national titles in 2015 and 2019 as well but hasn’t claimed consecutive titles yet, Fuehne pointed out. He was confident that, if the Orediggers work together and push each other, they can “do something special again this year.”
For the Mines women’s team, Siemers said its competitors are looking to be the best they’ve ever been this year, with “lots of depth and lots of contenders for individual national titles.”
While it’s a tough task ahead, he and Maksin were confident the Orediggers were up for the challenge. Maksin particularly praised the younger runners, saying the team has a bright future, both this postseason and beyond.
Maksin recalled being a first-year runner on the talented 2019 team that made program history with its first national podium appearance. Now, she hoped to bookend it with another historic year, potentially with the program’s first runner-up trophy or better.
“It’ll be fun and a lot of work to try and replicate (last year’s results),” Maksin continued. “But, cross country is ‘any given day.’ It just depends on how everyone’s feeling come November.”
While Siemers expected to have a better idea of the Orediggers’ capabilities and their opponents’ after the Oct. 6-7 meets, he’s generally pleased with how the 2023 season’s shaping up.
“So far, we’re healthy, and that’s the most you can ask for,” he said. “… I think everyone’s in a good spot and working hard.”