KEARNEY — University of Nebraska at Kearney’s women’s cross country team missed Destiny Reinke in the first two races last season as she recovered from an offseason injury. She returned to competition for the final three meets and made a difference for the Lopers.
She wasn’t at 100 percent, she said, but she earned All-MIAA honors for her performance in the MIAA Championships race. This season, Reinke is healthy and has built off last season’s finish to be the Lopers’ top runner.
Besides her health, Reinke’s improvement can partially be correlated to the addition of junior Maddie Bach and the emergence of junior Zoe Ritz. Both runners have pushed Reinke and played a role in her development this season, she said. It also has given the Lopers a formidable top three and a competitive chance in every race they’ve competed in this season.
"I know if you ask a lot of the older guys on our team, they will say the best thing to ever happen to Destiny’s running is Maddie showing up on campus," coach Brady Bonsall said. "Zoe is just running out of her mind. She’s the one who has gotten pulled along by the other two."
Reinke placed fourth with a time of 21 minutes, 45.6 seconds to lead the Lopers with a fourth-place finish at the MIAA Championships on Oct. 26 at Joplin, Mo.
Bach (seventh) and Ritz (ninth) also had strong showings in the conference meet. Bach completed the race in 22:11.4 and Ritz posted a time of 22:14.8.
Today (Saturday), the Lopers will return to the Tom Rutledge Cross Country Course for the NCAA Central Regional. Although there will be more than 30 teams competing compared to the MIAA meet that featured 11 teams, the Lopers hope for another strong showing.
"I love it. It’s my favorite course," Ritz said. "For this meet, there is going to be like three times the amount of people there compared to conference. It will make it more competitive, and the course is just really nice and there’s a lot of twists and turns."
Last season, the Lopers placed 15th out of the 35 competing regional teams. Reinke finished 34th out of 237 runners. Lacie Lindner was 67th, Ritz was 74th, Elizabeth Cramer was 85th and Kennedy Krejdl was 144th.
Despite the departures of Lindner and Cramer from last year’s team, the Lopers have remained competitive and sit eighth in the regional rankings.
One of the biggest reasons for the Lopers’ success this year is the addition of Bach, who joined the program in January. She questioned if she even wanted to continue her running career at a four-year university after attending three junior colleges, suffering two leg and foot injuries in a five-month span and battling an eating disorder.
A mindset change allowed Bach to rediscover her passion for cross country, which is partly why she’s thriving for the Lopers this season.
"I don’t take cross country as serious. I used to take it pretty seriously and it was giving me a lot of anxiety to the point where I wanted to quit, so I now have my love back," Bach said.
Reinke, Bach and Ritz have anchored the top of the Lopers’ lineup, while sophomores Sinclare Fiala and Krejdl and freshmen Allie Frasher and Hannah Pollan have rounded out the Lopers’ top-seven runners.
"We all have bonded really easily," said Reinke on the Lopers’ top three runners. "It’s like a competitive rivalry and people you want by your side to make you better and to have as your teammates to support you for when maybe it’s not so good."
For today’s (Saturday) regional, the top five finishers will count toward the Lopers’ team score.
To automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships on Nov. 23, the Lopers have to finish in the top three as a team at the regional race. The top two individuals not from one of those three teams also will quality. The remaining team and individual spots will be selected based on a formula for at-large spots on Monday.
"I think the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve realized to run for my team instead of myself," Ritz said. "I feel like when you have that mentality it makes you a lot better.
"I feel like our whole team has that mentality. When you are around people who have that positive mindset, it helps to have success."