The Minot State University cross country teams open their seasons Friday at the Randy Smith Invite hosted by Minnesota State University-Moorhead.
MSU coach Stu Melby said no runners have emerged as the fastest on the men's or women's teams, and that's OK with him.
"I really like how they're together and kind of getting a nice pack going," Melby said.
In the men's case, the pack is pretty small. Only four runners - junior Clay Armstrong, sophomore Joel Cartwright and seniors Max Boeckel and Brett Szafarski - are eligible to compete this season. Melby said a couple of track and field athletes will join the cross country group so the Beavers can reach the minimum of five individuals to qualify for team scores at meets.
Boeckel had MSU's best 8K (4.97 miles) time in 2012 with a finish of 27 minutes, 39 seconds.
Eight runners will compete for the women's team, with junior Kara Kuntz, junior Allison Windish and freshman Catie LeDesma leading practice runs. Kuntz ran a 19:49 5K (3.1 miles) last season for the Beavers' fastest time. Melby also said freshman Samantha Huether - a 2013 Minot High School graduate - is close to the top three.
"I think we're in a better position than we were last year," Melby said. "We've got a really good group of kids. They're working hard."
The Beavers were picked 10th out of 13 teams in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference preseason coaches poll, and 10th out of 15 teams in the women's poll. Augustana (S.D.) was chosen as a heavy favorite in each.
Melby said he is looking forward to seeing his athletes in a competitive environment, but he wants them to keep the early-season meets in perspective.
"I want the returners to regain some familiarity and the new people to be patient," he said. "Nobody really remembers what you do in the first two meets in the season."
Volleyball team showcases balance
Despite dropping three of four matches on the opening weekend of the season, the Minot State University volleyball team gave coach Travis Ward plenty to be excited about.
Ward said his team is more athletic than it was in 2012, and the Beavers already demonstrated better offensive balance than they had a year ago. In four-game losses to Montana State University-Northern and Montana Tech, three MSU hitters reached double figures in kills.
Of the four MSU players who reached double digits in kills, only sophomore Mallory Sall played on the team last season. Junior setter Emily Byrne has been in charge of sharing the wealth, averaging 9.3 assists per set.
"We obviously always expect that the more balanced we are, the harder it is to play against us," Ward said. "Our top hitters all had good nights, but unfortunately, we didn't have them together. That's just a piece of the puzzle. You're going to have more inconsistencies now than we hope to have at the end of the season."
The Beavers' first five matches - including Wednesday night's match against Mayville State - come against NAIA opponents that have a three-week head start to their season over the Beavers. Ward said his team is still stringing mistakes together, something he hopes it eliminates quickly.
"We talk a lot about managing a game and eliminating unforced errors," he said. "From the serve-receive line, our line did a nice job overall, but we compounded errors. It's not the end of the world to make one error, but it's the end of the world to make three or four errors and string some together. We let teams go on a lot of runs that way."
The Beavers get their first taste of Division II competition with four matches this weekend in Sioux Falls, S.D.
It took just one weekend for the MSU women's golf team to accomplish something it failed to achieve last season: have two golfers break 80.
Seniors Mackenzie Nagel and Rebecca Heinitz shot 79s Saturday at the Concordia Invite at Wildflower Golf Club in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Heinitz's low round last year was a 79 and Nagel's best was an 80.
The Beavers are making gains lower in their lineup as well. Sophomore Danielle Foster shot an 81 and 82 in her first two rounds after finishing with a low of 93 strokes last season. Kayla Barke, a freshman from Williston, carded 83 and 82 last weekend.
MSU competes in the Concordia-St. Paul Wildwood Lodge Invite beginning Sunday in Lake Elmo, Minn.
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.