The recently-revived cross country program has gotten underway in its first year back at MNU. New head coach Nate Wiens is a MidAmerica alum and former Pioneer athlete, and he said he hopes to extend his past experiences into his new time at MNU.

“I competed here and I went through a couple different life changes here as well, and I really enjoyed my experience here,” Wiens said. “It seemed like a good fit to come back and carry on some of the good things that I felt happened in my life and share that with some other individuals.”

Members of the men's cross country team prepare to start a race at Johnson County Community College. Photo by Carmen Misse.Members of the men's cross country team prepare to start a race at Johnson County Community College. Photo by Carmen Misse.

Freshman Jac Chelman said the team has become very close, even though the new era of the program is just beginning.

“Being on a cross country team is a lot different than other teams,” Chelman said. ”We are really, really close. It’s nice having a family aspect to everything because you can always have different people to rely on.”

Wiens said he sees the large track team adding a special factor to the MNU community as a whole.

“If you take a look at a small campus community and a big team, like a track team, it adds an element to the campus atmosphere that is high quality students, dedicated discipline, and generally your cross country and track athletes have good GPAs,” Wiens said. 

When it comes to competitions, Wiens said he wants to push his athletes to be everything they are capable of being. 

“Whatever my athletes are capable of achieving, I want them to achieve that,” Wiens said.  “I don’t think any coach likes to see athletes not achieve their fullest potential. I just want to see my athletes achieve their fullest potential. If that happens, we are going to be really successful.”  

This Pioneers team is young and new, and Wiens says they have a lot of promise. 

Halley Dean races to the finish at the Haskell Invitational. Photo by Carmen Misse.Halley Dean races to the finish at the Haskell Invitational. Photo by Carmen Misse.

“They see each other’s potential and that creates a lot of energy,” Wiens said. “It creates a lot of hope. I think that is one of our biggest strengths. Everyone is holding themselves to a really high expectation of themselves. That is what every coach wants to see. That’s the kind of people I want to coach.”

Wade Watkins, the associate head cross country coach, said that his favorite part about coaching cross country is when his athletes have that “a-ha” moment. 

“When the kids realize what is going on and have that lightbulb moment – I love that,” Watkins said. “It’s that understanding what’s going on and I’ve fallen in love with running. That is a passion of mine. I just love when people get it.”

Freshman Halley Dean said the women’s team is very encouraging and the team is improving with each meet. 

“The first meet was a little rough, with a couple good individual performances. The second meet the girls tied for first, and the team ran a lot better,” Dean said.

Wiens said the team’s slogans, “teamwork makes the dream work” and “one is too small a number to achieve greatness” keep the team focused beyond themselves.

“We don’t just say it,” Wiens said. “We actually practice it. I have been very fortunate to have some junior college transfers come in and really fulfill a leadership role. We have had some freshman step up as well to really give us some solid leadership in a first year program that you really need.”