In August 2017, head coach Tim Schwegler set a goal for the men’s and women’s cross country teams. As the Truman State University Bulldogs began fall season with both team and individual wins, that goal — top 5 in the GLVC — became more and more attainable. Two top 5 conference finishes was something the Bulldogs had not seen in 10 years, and something that has been out of reach for the ‘Dogs since they entered the GLVC five years ago.
The Bulldogs had two top-finishes in 2017, and did so among the friendly home crowd in Kirksville. Weaving the hills and loops of Kirksville Country Club, Truman welcomed nearly 300 GLVC runners to the championship race. The Truman women finished fourth of 13 teams in the 6,000 meters, while the Bulldog men were fifth out of 12 in their 8,000 meter competition.
|Bulldog Team GLVC Championships Finishes|
|1||Southern Indiana||Southern Indiana|
Individually, the Bulldog women had two top-15 runners. Senior Michaela Hylen led the ‘Dogs from the 12th spot with a time of 22:53.39. Chasing in her footsteps, with a 13th place time of 22:53.84, was freshman Kelly Doerr who joined Hylen in All-GLVC honors in her debut season. Of the 138 total competitors, junior Courtney Bakkan rounded out the top 30 for the Bulldogs, crossing the line in 27th.
Doerr said she had no expectations heading into the meet besides doing her best to run closely behind Hylen. However, she said she was pleasantly surprised by the end result and said she feels more confident heading into the NCAA Midwest Regional meet.
As a freshman, Doerr said she had to take her first year to relearn cross country. She said Schwegler helped her mature as a runner and helped her develop race strategies. In addition to developing an individual race style, Doerr said teammates helped her learn how to take pressure off herself and truly be able to enjoy races and the special moments in practice. For Doerr, the love of the sport peaked with the memories collected at the GLVC championships.
“This was possibly my favorite cross country meet of all time,” Doerr said. “I love running at the Kirksville Country Club. The course was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and my teammate [Hylen] got engaged. It was the first race that made me think, ‘Wow, I’m a collegiate runner.’”
On the men’s side, Truman was paced by senior Brice Pavey, the top finishing Bulldog of the day with his 10th-place run. Pavey ran the men’s 10,000-meter course in 25:11.13, earning All-Conference recognition.
Two more Bulldogs, Junior Keegan Walsh and Junior Michael Grasing finished in the front 30 of the 144 runners, with 23rd and 29th place finishes, respectively.
“I thought we did what I thought we could do,” Schwegler said. “It’s a really tough conference in cross country, and that was our best finish ever in our fifth year in the conference.”
Schwegler said his team took a practice run on the course Thursday afternoon, giving them only one extra run than every other team. He said his team did feel prepared however, because they were expecting the hilly landscape of Northeast Missouri. Schwegler said his team was pumped to race at home, and were excited heading into Saturday’s home crowd.
Schwegler said his team worked through adversity — especially on the women’s side, where two of the team’s top 5 runners were battling substantial injuries. The Bulldogs’ third runner, freshman Emma Harrelson, was even unable to compete in the championship because of a hamstring injury. Schwegler said having others, especially younger runners, step up made up for the injuries. He said the strength of his young runners is something to look forward to in the future of Truman cross country.
“If you had asked me before, I would have said [Doerr] probably would have finished in the 20s somewhere,” Schwegler said. “She finished 12th. I don’t try to make people nervous and build them up too much. I try to be realistic. She had a great race, and I’m not surprised she was All-Conference — she definitely has that ability.”
Schwegler said if the team can put together another strong recruiting class, he can see Truman even closer to the top of the GLVC.
Next for the Bulldogs is the NCAA Midwest Regionals hosted Nov. 4 in Cedarville, Ohio. While all teams are invited to compete at regionals, the meet will be the end of the road for all but the top three teams who will earn a spot at nationals. Schwegler said Truman’s region — comprised of the GLVC, GMAC and GLIAC — is considered one of the toughest regions in the nation, but he said this is no excuse for his teams not to run hard.
“What we want this year is a good effort,” Schwegler said. “We want maybe a top 10 finish, and then again, with the youth we have, maybe next year give the program a shot at nationals.”