When Randy Fischer migrated from the assistant cross country coaching position at Dakota State University in late summer of 2007 to the head coach at Mount Marty College, he found what could hardly be described as a team.
That first fall, Fischer found himself with zero, ZERO men on his squad and only three women. He borrowed a handful of soccer players just so that the Lancers could field a team at the conference and region meets.
Even worse, the dozen athletes that Fischer had recruited to Dakota State in Madison to run for the Trojans the two seasons before were shining and improving rapidly. Before it was all said and done, Fischer’s DSU recruits would help win the Trojans their first conference title in over a decade and secure multiple All-American awards in both cross country and track & field.
Back to Yankton though, Fischer once again hit the recruiting trail hard in his first year at Mount Marty, this time trying to convince prep athletes to give the tiny private Catholic school on the bluffs of the Missouri River a chance. That first season he secured commitments from Yankton standout Jade Steinberg, Lennox’s Tyler Smit, and welcomed Kenyan Titus Kosgei during the semester break, just in time for the 2008 indoor track season.
Fast forward nearly five years, Smit and Kosgei have both graduated as two of the most decorated runners in MMC history, and leave behind a program still on the slow but steady rise while Steinberg is a fifth-year senior on a talented Lancer women’s XC squad.
In the years since, Fischer’s first complete recruiting class has mostly graduated with mild success on the cross country course and handful of All-American awards on the track. This fall however, shows the culmination of the former SDSU All-American, Salem High School State Champion and Olympic Trials qualifier’s recruiting and coaching philosophy.
Knowing it is nearly impossible to get elite local athletes to come to a small NAIA school, Fischer instead focuses on those second-tier prep athletes who found success in high school, but are still willing to work hard to tap into their almost unlimited potential.
This past weekend, that philosophy paid off, as the Lancers swept the DSU Herb Blakely Invitational in Madison, giving the Lancer women their first overall meet victory in a decade and netting the men their first team title in school history.
Granted it was a small meet, and the Lancers still aren’t considered a serious threat in the GPAC team picture this season, but it indicates just how far these teams have come over the past six years under Fischer’s guidance.
With the women placing seven runners in the top eight spots on Saturday, the Lancers defeated second-place Briar Cliff by a score of 16-38, just missing a perfect score of 15 by one place. Kaylee Fly won the individual title for Mount Marty, the first individual Lancer XC finish in Fischer’s tenure. Following Fly across the line were a trio of runners, Tess Byrd, Katie Smelker and Jordyn Hudelson, that have seven combined seasons of cross country eligibility left after this fall. With that foundation to build on, the Lancers look set for a long run of team success on the ladies side.
Junior Jordan Pater, an Adrian, Minnesota native, has emerged as one of the top runners in the GPAC this season. The formula to his success is no secret, Pater simply runs, runs, and runs some more. His work ethic has paid dividends to his personal success and is already rubbing off on his younger teammates.
Pater finished third at DSU on Saturday to lead the Lancers to a 17-43 defeat of Briar Cliff. Dakota State did not field a team in the meet as their top runner competed unattached. Although even if he was competing for the Trojans, Mount Marty still would have placed seven runners before DSU’s fifth.
Joining Pater as leaders on the men’s side are fellow juniors Sam Lopez, Josh Monson, Kevin Cosman and Mychal Bierwagen. All placed in the top 14 at the meet on Saturday and Monson, Cosman, and Bierwagen have all run faster times this season than ever before, an impressive feat considering how early in the year it is and how little speed work has been run by the athletes.
Freshman Gage Blaschke and Ryan Oye have followed the example set by the juniors and made great strides in adjusting from the 5000 meter high school distance to the 8000 meter collegiate distance, as well as a large jump in training volume and intensity.
This means that although short on depth, the Lancers will return their seven top male runners next fall, an exciting prospect considering just how much all of them are improving with each passing week.
Look for the Lancers to continue to make some noise this season, and in the seasons to come. It has been quite a journey for Coach Fischer as he has built a pair of contenders literally from scratch.