Menƒ?TMs cross country looking for best season in years

By Mathew Starner

With a fifth place finish at Saturday’s St. Olaf Invitational, the already historically strong Men’s Cross Country team looks forward to a promising year.

That isn’t easy to say after losing runner Roscoe Sopiwnik ’06. Sopiwnik, who just missed nationals as an individual last year, would have been the first Mac runner to reach nationals since Brandon Guthrie in 1999.

Head Coach Matt Haugen has already learned how to recover from loss. “Each year we’ve lost key seniors,” Haugen said. “Yet we’ve developed and maintained our upper-MIAC standing based on our team culture, work ethic and tradition.” The team culture was able to keep a familiar face, after Sopiwnik decided to stay around to help the team, this time in a coaching role.

“Luckily for us he’s helping us coach this year,” Haugen said, who, before this season, wasn’t used to sharing his coaching duties. “It’s the first time I’ve had an assistant coach in 16 years of coaching college cross country. The only reason we have one is he was too exceptional not to add to our resource.”

Captain Dylan Keith ’07 felt the transition was made simple for Sopiwnik. “Even before he took the position, Roscoe had already positioned himself as an individual with a passion for helping everyone on the team to become better athletes.”

“It was unsurprising then when he returned after graduating to help the team he had already put four years of hard work into,” Keith added.

Keith himself has stepped into a leadership role as this year’s captain and has already started the year strong, finishing fifth overall in Saturday’s race.

Rounding out the Scot’s scoring five were Matt Wegmann ’08, Tim Burns ’09, Wade Eckstrom ’10 and Ben Garnett ’07.

Since Haugen assumed the coaching role in 2003, the team has had three consecutive years of top 4 finishes in the MIAC.

And with such great talent on the team this year, runners like Keith are looking optimistic. “I expect nothing less than this team’s best possible performance,” Keith said. “Another fourth place team finish would be a task we could complete on any given day in my opinion.”

This year appears no different to Haugen either, who is also very excited about the group of runners that he has.

“Currently we have what might become the best team that Mac’s had in a number of years, a number of decades,” Haugen said. “It’s really up to me and them now in the next 8 to12 weeks to climb up a few notches and get the team to run closer together.”