Four personalities … differing as many do on any college campus.
Four personalities are seeking a strong finish to the 2019 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ cross-country season. Making their differences focus on goals set by Morningside College head coach Dave Nash when they compete at the Fort Vancouver Historic Site Friday, Nov. 22.
Courtesy Mavericks Athletics, click here! Feature photo: Ro Paschal, Connor Ritz-Sioux City, Emmalee Fundermann-Anthon, Jo McKibben-Mapleton©Maverick Athletics 2019
Finish in the top half and potentially the first 100 was among the messages set in front of them by their head coach. Junior men’s competitors Ro Paschal (JR/Mancos, Colo.) (Mancos, Colo.) and Connor Ritz (JR/Sioux City, IA) (Sioux City, Iowa) and the women’s duo of senior Emmalee Fundermann (Anthon, Iowa) and sophomore Jo McKibben (SO/Mapleton, IA) (Mapleton, Iowa) all aim for that season’s ending but have taken different paths with intriguing stories to reach the association’s championship … continuing 14 straight years in which the Maroon has had at least one individual men’s and/or women’s qualifier.
Fundermann and McKibben have continued a friendship that began in the communities of Mapleton and Anthon that share Maple Valley Community School District. According to Jo, they’ve been good friends since elementary school, and they are roommates on Morningside’s campus.
“I’m so lucky to have Em here to pull me through,” McKibben noted. “I’m a big overthinker in certain situations, including races. My mind has been my worst enemy when I’m running, but this year, I’ve learned to shut it off somewhat (during those times). Like Emmalee tells me, ‘Just go out and run.'”
Fundermann is glad to have the camaraderie of her friend and teammate, too. “We all have people to push us (on the women’s team), and Jo is one of those for me,” she said. “I love running with her. It’s awesome having a good friend like that on the team and understanding what kind of things you want to accomplish.”
The pair also share the fact that neither of them figured a collegiate cross-country career was ahead of them. Fundermann admits, with a smile, that running three miles “wasn’t her thing” and didn’t even run cross country in high school. McKibben did compete for the Ramblers and was part of a state meet squad as a junior, but her focus has been on 60 meters and long jumping.
However, this odd long-distance couple has turned heads all season, both going sub-20s on 5K courses. They each placed in the top 10 of the Great Plains Athletic Conference Championships and are hoping for more success this weekend.
“While I might not favor cross country, when I’m competing, I’m giving it everything I’ve got,” Fundermann said. “I can’t go out just to run. I’m very competitive and want to do well … no matter what the situation.”
“To see where I’m at now, it does make me smile,” McKibben said. “It all comes down to me wanting to show that I could compete (in cross country) and make that big jump from what I do in track and field. It’s been a fun and interesting journey.”
For the men, Ritz has the advantage of being in a national meet setting, as he competed a year ago in Cedar Rapids. Paschal has also been through the big race feel having fought for one of National Collegiate Athletic Association’s premiere programs in any division when he ran two seasons for Division II perennial powerhouse Adams State University.
“I’m going in with a different mindset (this year),” Ritz said of his second nationals’ attempt. “Last year, it was all about understanding what it was all about. This year, though, I’m aiming for the top 100 and maybe to get a personal record, too.
I feel like one of the reasons for my success this year is due to the leadership role that Ro and I have (on the men’s team),” he added. “It’s a different feeling and focuses when you have other people leaning on you. We have to go out and show our best, so the younger guys understand what the program is trying to accomplish.”
Paschal admittedly leads by example as a new team member, but he also shows his teammates some of that competitive energy that harkens back to his Adams State days.
“I’ve been getting that old fire back through each meet,” he said. “I think it helps show the guys where we could be if we compete at a high level. This has been a great opportunity all the way around … I love the school. Coach Nash is wonderful. The team is great.
Connor pushes me, which is what I need … we got out and put in around 55-60 miles a week,” he added. “The rest of the team sees that, too, and is beginning to challenge one another.”
One more challenge awaits with the 12:30 p.m. men’s 8K race and the 1:30 p.m. women’s 5K event in Washington state. Nash and Mustang fans hope to see the personalities come together to end 2019 on a high note.