Cross country is a sport most people connect to the idea of competing against the clock. However, Nebraska’s top cross country runner, sophomore George Kusche, doesn’t agree.
“Cross country is not really about time,” he said.
Kusche is aware that course difficulty and conditions change from meet to meet, so he’s more concerned with how he places and competes with fellow runners.
This says a lot about Kusche’s competitive spirit and is the perfect mindset when heading into big meets like regionals.
The cross country team will be heading to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to compete in the NCAA Regionals on Friday, Nov. 15, with races beginning at 10 a.m. This meet determines which teams and individual runners qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Head coach David Harris emphasized that the rest of the meets throughout the season are really just practice leading up to the Big Ten Championships and NCAA Regionals.
“We prepare in our four regular season meets for the two championship meets,” Harris said.
In cross country, mental preparation is almost as important as physical preparation. Especially when approaching regionals, confidence is crucial. Kusche has that piece locked in.
“I’m pretty confident that I’ll get the job done,” Kusche said. “Even if I have a bad race, I’ll still qualify, but obviously I’m going to have a good race.”
Junior Erika Freyhof also acknowledged the importance of confidence for this particular meet.
“I’ve thought about the race but not getting too uptight about it because you can’t do that with running. You just have to go into it mentally confident,” she said.
Junior Mark Freyhof mentioned it’s important for him to not put more pressure on himself for regionals than any other meet.
“I say if you’re able to keep your nerves even throughout the meets throughout the season that’s probably the best bet, so that’s my goal. Yeah, not to put too much pressure on one race,” he said.
One factor that helps these runners is that they all have previous experience running at regionals. They agreed that this gives them a bigger advantage than they had in past years.
Especially on the men’s side, past experience can be helpful because at regionals there is a change in race distance. In regular season meets, the men run an 8k, however, it’s increased to a 10k for regionals.
“Just the strategy that a lot of teams take at regionals is different than some of the other meets, so I think it definitely gives me an advantage knowing what to expect from those teams,” Mark Freyhof said.
This past season has been a remarkable one, and that helps bring momentum and excitement into Friday. Harris commended the hard work of the athletes and said this is the best overall team he’s had since coaching at Nebraska.
“I feel like we’ve, in the men, raised our training level. A part of that is Kusche and his abilities has pushed some other guys on our team,” Harris said.
Sophomore Ryan Martins has also been a game changer this season. Harris credited Martins with being the most-improved runner on the team.
“[He] decided he was going to train with George [Kusche] more. That little motivation helped our team,” Harris said. “I knew from the first meet that Ryan was a different runner this year. It helped our men’s team immensely. We improved because of his improvements.”
On the women’s side, Harris mentioned that the Huskers have three really solid runners, however, there’s usually a big gap between the third and fourth runner. Large gaps hurt the team score at a meet.
In future seasons, Harris wants to continue to build depth on the women’s team so they can be stronger from top to bottom.
One of Harris’ proudest coaching moments came from then-Illinois cross country coach Jake Stewart approaching Harris at the Big Ten Championships a couple weeks ago.
The Illinois coach joked, “we don’t need another good team in the Big Ten.”
Harris saw this as a compliment to the team, showing that Husker cross country is beginning to make a statement as a team to watch out for. Regionals on Friday, Nov. 15, will be a good chance to test the team’s improvement from that point.