On Sept. 21, the Nebraska men’s and women’s cross country teams will compete in the 30th Annual Greeno/Dirksen Invitational at Mahoney Golf Course in Lincoln. The meet is co-hosted by Nebraska Wesleyan University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Over the course of three decades, the invite has been known as one of the best invitationals in NCAA cross country as it brings teams from Division I to Division III into the mix.
”The meet is always our first meet of the season and it is a great way to get started,” Nebraska Wesleyan Cross Country Head Coach Ted Bulling said. “Our runners, our alums and our supporters always look forward to the Greeno/Dirksen meet.”
The invite first began in 1989 and was originally known as the Woody Greeno Invite, named after longtime Nebraska Wesleyan coach Woody Greeno.
Woody Greeno began his career as a high school coach in South Dakota. In 1954 Greeno began his legacy as the head coach for Nebraska Wesleyan, a position he would hold until 1979. As coach, Greeno led the Prairie Wolves to five conference titles and a top-10 finish in the 1974 Division III Cross Country Championship. He was voted State College Coach of the Year in 1973 and was inducted into the Nebraska Wesleyan Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988. He passed away in 1993 and the outdoor track at NWU was renamed in his honor.
“Woody was an old school coach who I think would marvel at the size of the meet now and the quality of teams the meet attracts,” Bulling said. “He would love it.”
The invite was formed to commemorate him; however, cross country head coaches Bulling of Nebraska Wesleyan and Jay Dirksen of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln decided to co-host the invite after discovering both schools held a meet in back-to-back weeks during the early 90’s.
“Coach Jay Dirksen and I thought that we could pull together a better meet together than either of us could separately, so the Greeno/Nebraska Invitational was born,” Bulling said.
It’s not often that schools would co-host a meet, but the Huskers and the Prairie Wolves are able to run things smoothly.
“We divided up the responsibility for the meet pretty well,” Nebraska head coach David Harris said. “Nebraska covers the course, and the race, while NWU covers the results and the registrations.”
About 35 different teams have competed in the invite from junior colleges all the way up to Division I schools.
“This meet appeals to us,” Harris said. “It gives smaller schools a chance to compete against bigger schools. It’s not the championship, but it’s still an important meet to every team who runs in it. It’s a good balance.”
For most of its existence, the invite has been known as the Greeno/Nebraska Invitational. It wasn’t until recently that the name changed to Greeno/Dirksen.
”A couple of years after Jay Dirksen retired, current coach Dave Harris suggested we add Jay’s name to the meet and I thought that was a great idea,” Bulling said. “Thus we now have the Woody Greeno/Jay Dirksen Invitational.”
Dirksen was head coach for the Huskers until 2011, when Harris took over.
“I was Jay’s assistant for a time,” Harris said. “He was a good mentor. He gave me a good start to my career, but I didn’t suggest to name the meet after him because he was a friend. I wanted it to be named after him because of the legacy he had for the team.”
Dirksen started off as the cross country head coach for South Dakota State from 1969 to 1977. He then coached at Illinois and Missouri until 1983, when he joined the Huskers. In his career coaching the Huskers, Dirksen coached three NCAA National Champions, 14 Cross Country All-Americans and led the team to five conference titles and six regional titles. He was also voted Women’s Midwest Region Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003.
“Jay appreciates having an invite named after him, but it’s more about the teams,” Harris said.
The invite has mainly taken place at Pioneers Park, but this year, it’ll take place at Mahoney Golf Course, which was the location of the 2018 Big Ten Cross Country Championships.
“I love how we moved the meet over to Mahoney,” Harris said. “After having the Big Ten championship there last year, teams came to us saying how they liked the course, so we decided that moving it there would be a great change from Pioneers Park. The course itself isn’t that much of a challenge, so for a September meet, it’s perfect for teams. Plus, it’s the only home meet we’ve got so might as well make it a good one.”
The meet will start at 9 a.m. with the women’s race, followed by the men’s race at 9:45 a.m.