1981 NCAA Div. III champions
2015 Iowa Conference finish: Fourth
2015 NCAA Division III Central Regional finish: 16th place
Starters lost: 1 (Molly Bramble)
Starters returning: 6 (Andie Arthofer, Maleaha Earnest, Cassidy Gornick, Evie Kammeyer, Holly McKinney, Kasey Wiedmaier)
Letterwinners lost/returning: 4/9
2016 team captains: Andie Arthofer, Kasey Wiedmaier
A talent-laden Central College women’s cross country roster that flashed plenty of promise last year is aiming higher this fall.
With just one senior on the roster a year ago, the Dutch still managed a fourth-place Iowa Conference finish for the fourth consecutive year. Entering this season, seven of the top eight runners return setting the Dutch on an upward trend.
“We’re a veteran team, but with a lot of young talent,” coach Joe Dunham said. “I think the combination of those two things gives us a great opportunity for success.
“They have such a strong desire to suceed. Everybody wants to win, but these women are living it out every single day. They’ve been training hard and putting in the miles all summer.”
Holly McKinney had a breakout season, running 22 minutes, 40 seconds at the Oct. 3 Rim Rock Classic in Lawrence, Kansas for the fifth-fastest 6,000-meter race in school history. She followed that up with an appearance at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. McKinney is prepping for further ascension as a junior.
“In my opinion, Holly is one of the best runners in the country,” Dunham said. “She’s proved she can run at the national level by qualifying in the steeplechase. If she keeps working hard, I don’t think she is limited in any way.”
Evie Kammeyer made her mark on the all-time school record board as a freshman in 2014 with a 6,000-meter time of 23:47. Injuries prevented her from besting that mark as a sophomore but Dunham believes she can shatter it as a junior.
“She could be fantastic if we could just get her healthy,” he said. “She’s an incredibly hard worker and very competitive. She has the potential to blow up the region.”
Andie Arthofer and Kasey Wiedmaier have been staples in the lineup throughout their career. Heading into their senior year, Dunham is counting on them to set the tone for the entire squad.
“They are the backbone of our team,” he said. “How well we run this year will in large part depend on how well they run. They are going to be an essential part of this team’s success.”
Seniors Maleaha Earnest, Cassidy Gornick and junior Kendra Conforti appear to be battling it out for the crucial No. 5 spot in the lineup.
“I’m hoping the competition will help breed success,” Dunham said. “The more they compete with each other, the better we’ll be able to tighten up our pack.”
“We really saw a lot of development and fire from Maleaha last year. Cassidy is primed for a huge cross country season. Kendra is a workout warrior, but just needs to find a way to compete in races.”
After two seasons away from the sport, Gabi Wilson returns to the program. The senior was a part of the varsity seven in 2013 but will have to shake the rust off first.
“I couldn’t be more excited about Gabi coming back for her last season,” Dunham said. “She has been such a huge part of our program. She is extremely talented and never gives up.”
The top freshman last year, Rachel Peter, impressed Dunham during the track season and he’s anxious to see more of the same in cross country.
“I think we saw just a little bit of her talent in the spring,” Dunham said “She started to gain some confidence that I hope we can build off.”
Sophomores Jenna Murray and Alex Oldham as well as transfer junior Missy Charlton return with a year of training in the program under their belts.
“We’re going to see a lot of improvement from Jenna,” Dunham said. “I think we’ll see a big jump from Alex as well. I’m excited to Missy take another step forward this fall.”
Four freshmen are joining the program this fall and Dunham is pleased with the added talent.
“It’s one of the better classes that we’ve had in a while,” he said.
The season once again starts with Central hosting the annual Dutch Invitational on September 3. The rest of the regular season is completely different from 2015, highlighted by an October 15 trip to the Connecticut College Invitational in Waterford.
“It’s a very unique schedule.” Dunham said. “It’s a great opportunity to go out to the east coast and bring our whole team to complete.”
The conference meet is slated for October 29 in Storm Lake, with the NCAA Division III Central Regional two weeks later in Northfield, Minnesota. The Dutch were 16th in a 30-team regional field last year.
“We have great respect for all of the teams in our conference,” Dunham said. “We just need to perform at the high level we are capable of and we’ll reach great goals this year.”