If the Tabor College men’s cross-country team makes it to the NAIA national meet at the end of the season, it will be on the strength of Hillsboro runners.
Three of the team’s top-five runners are from the local high school.
“We try to always recruit Hillsboro kids, but you never quite know who you’re going to get,” head coach Daniel Swaney said. “We’ve been fortunate that the first three have all been running really well, so it’s made a big difference for us.”
Junior Joel Allen is the top returner on the team and in the conference. Senior Nathan Vogel placed fourth on the team in the JK Gold Classic this past weekend, but runs his best in the 800 meter for the track team.
Sophomore Bret Mueller keeps surprising Swaney, surpassing expectations in cross-country and making it to nationals in track his first year, then improving upon that effort this season.
“He probably was a little more motivated over the summer, but I think that’s because he did so well last year,” Swaney said. “I thought he’d be fighting for the fifth spot, then as school began I started thinking he might actually be three, and he was.”
Mueller chose Tabor based on whether he would continue running in college.
“I looked at a couple of schools, and it was either Tabor or Wichita State,” he said. “If I went to Wichita State, I wasn’t going to run.”
Two brothers from Hillsboro, Josh and Matt Richert, are listed as freshmen on the roster.
Josh placed 27th overall and seventh on the team last week, while Matt is dealing with knee pain gained from time in the army. Swaney said this is Matt’s first time running.
This year, the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference will host the national meet at the University of Kansas’ Rim Rock Farm. Only top teams in a conference get automatic bids to the meet, but when a conference is hosting, the top two teams receive bids.
Tabor has never qualified.
“It won’t be easy to get second, but it’s at least possible at this point,” Swaney said.