The North Central Conference will contest its final cross country championship this Saturday in Duluth. The league which boasts a long history of top-notch NCAA Division II athletics has seen many of its long-time members jump to Division I in recent years. South Dakota State and North Dakota State made the move a few years back; the University of South Dakota and the University of North Dakota will do so next year.
In light of the defections, the conference will cease to exist after this school year. Minnesota State - Mankato, the University of Minnesota - Duluth, St. Cloud State, and Augustana will move to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference beginning next year.
DtB caught up with long-time Mankato coach Mark Schuck to have him share a few memories of NCC meets past and to tell us about his current team, the favorites to win their 10th NCC title at the meet.
DtB: How odd is it for you, Mark, knowing that this is the last year for the conference that you've competed in for so long?
Schuck: I don’t see it so much as odd as I see it a sign of the times. The trend of so many NCC schools deciding to go DI to the point of disbanding the conference is unfortunate. However the four remaining schools all going to the Northern Sun gives hope that many of the good things that the NCC had will also be there with the Northern Sun. Hopefully better. The Northern Sun was our roots. It has always been a strong conference in track and cross country.
DtB: What do you think is the biggest Mankato highlight from all the NCC cross country championships?
When you word it that way, it brings to mind the great tradition of distance running at MSU. We have had many great athletes and many great teams but winning the NCC, the Regional and The National Championship in 1988 stands alone as the greatest accomplishment.
DtB: Do you have an intereting story about the blizzard meet?
Schuck: The night before the meet, at the coaches meeting, we talked about the incoming storm. We agreed that if NDSU was going to make any changes, that they give us fair warning. I like the athletes to eat three to four hours prior to competing. While at breakfast with the team, the people from NDSU came to our table and informed us that the storm was so bad that the meet is going to start in one hour and not only that but they also informed us that the race will not be a 10K but a 5K.
The meet management was concerned that athletes might get lost in the storm so instead of two loops they only went one loop. I thought that if they were concerned of athletes getting lost on the second loop that we should not run the first loop. On the second loop they will at least have a trail. The night before, I went to a store and bought ski goggles for each of my athletes.
The meet was also the qualifying meet for the National Meet. To make a long story short, we did qualify for Nationals. The goggles worked great. One of my better athletes, Tulu an African was last on my team. Two weeks later at the National Meet in California he was an All-American. I have never seen a race held in that bad of weather since.
I was also involved in a “blizzard meet” when Nationals were held at St. Cloud. We had a foot of snow the night before. We ran the meet. That was hard on the southern schools. That was in the early 80’s and Minnesota has not had the National meet since.
DtB: How is this year's team looking going into the meet? Is the squad healthy?
Schuck: I have a very deep team with four guys healthy and looking strong. They are James Krajsa from Moorhead, Denise Mokaya from Kenya, Dan Ristau from Blue Earth, and Jon Stoltman from Little Falls. Then there are the guys that are good, but somewhat hurt. Ben Klungvedt from Moorhead has a calf pull, Jesse Merkel, Menomonie, Wisconsin, has back problems, Chad Janizeski from Minneota was in a car accident, Erik Teig, from Amery, Wisconsin has leg problems and Jeff Stuckenbroker from Windom has a hip problem, Doug Galbavy from South Dakota has a hamstring problem, Jeff Lumbardo and Dan Kromer are healthy.
That’s our twelve guys that we have entered in this years conference meet. I feel good about our chances to win. It’s a good hard-working team.
DtB: UMD gave you a run at Griak ... are they the top challenger?
Schuck: Don’t count Augustana out. They have a strong team also, but UMD will be on there home course so it won’t be easy.
The NCC Cross Country History and Record Page
A Blogger's Archived Stories About the NCC's Demise
The NCC's Wikipedia Page