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Waldorf runners prepare to shape future of the program

Waldorf Warriors LogoBy Matt Oliver

FOREST CITY – Bringing an all-in attitude, the Waldorf University women’s cross country team is preparing to lay the foundation for the program this season.

Charley Buddenhagen, Marissa Kuik and Marissa Widener possess a close bond that is expected to translate in competition for the Warriors.

“These girls all know that they are part of building the program, so they know this year is an important year for us building long term,” said Waldorf Coach Nathan Christianson, who begins his first season with the Warriors. “They have bought into me almost immediately and that’s sometimes the hardest thing to get across when you take over a program.”

Kuik and Widener are new to the collegiate distance running scene, but the two freshmen bring solid resumes.

While in high school, Kuik ran cross country for Spectrum High School through a cop-op agreement and helped the Sting reach the Minnesota State meet in 2012 and 2013. The Coon Rapids, Minnesota native was a five-year letter winner and earned all-conference honors in the final four seasons of her high school career.

Widener, a Bridgeport, Neb.\raska native, was a three-time Class D state qualifier for Bridgeport High School and garnered all-state honorable mention recognition in 2014. She was an all-Western Trails Conference (WTC) selection during all four seasons of her prep career with the Lady Bulldogs.

“Marissa Kuik and Marissa Widener, I think will do some great things this year, and we’ll see what they can do by the end of the year,” Christianson said. “They both have come in great shape, so by the end of the year, we should see some massive time drops from them. They have really bought into my program.”

Buddenhagen was a two-year letter winner at Interstate 35 High School and continued her running career at Southwestern Community College. The junior from New Virginia clocked a personal-best 5K time of 21 minutes while at Southwestern.

“Charley has come in and has been a team leader for a small ladies’ squad and with two years of junior college experience, she has some knowledge to help grow and nurture the younger runners,” Christianson said.

The Warriors begin the 2016 season this Friday in the 4th Annual Viterbo Night Flight, starting at 8 p.m. at La Crosse, Wisconsin.

“This will be a low-key three-mile race with just four teams,” Christianson said.

Viterbo University, which is one of Waldorf’s North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) foes, will host the meet that is expected to serve as a tune-up for the Warriors.

“We will see where we match up,” Christianson said. “We will be training through this meet, so we will have tired legs going into it and use this meet more for training.”

Three of Waldorf’s five regular-season meets will be held in Iowa. The Warriors will also compete in the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 24 at Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

Turning in personal-record times from one meet to the next and continuing to build on those achievements is an expectation for Waldorf’s runners.

“I think we can have some higher goals than just PR’ing with certain individuals, but we need to PR first and then reevaluate our goals,” Christianson said.

The Warriors compete in the NSAA Championships on Nov. 5 at Dickinson, N.D. where they look to shake things up.

“I think we have the opportunity to have an all-conference performer or more if these ladies continue to improve,” Christianson said. “It really depends on how much we progress over the next two months.”

As the season continues, there’ll be a mileage uptick for Waldorf’s team, and it’s a challenge Christianson hopes to see his runners embrace.

“Adapting to higher mileage will be the biggest thing for these young ladies,” Christianson said. “If they continue to buy in and adapt well to my training, I think we can really surprise people with some individual results.”

Dickinson State University won last year’s NSAA championship with 42 points to edge the University of Jamestown (42). Viterbo (70), Valley City State University (87) and Dakota State University (122) rounded out the team standings.

Dickinson State, which placed 34th in the 2015 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championships, is picked to repeat as conference champions this year. After not fielding a team last year, the Warriors aim to make an impact during their first season in the NSAA.

“Our conference has some really good competition, especially with two powerhouses in Dickinson State and Jamestown, along with some up-and-coming teams,” Christianson said. “If we can do something more than PR with individuals, it would be a huge step for us in building this team long term.”