Colorado School of Mines senior Nathanael Williams was a little surprised early last week when he was selected U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) NCAA Division II male cross country athlete of the week.

In his first meet of the 2016 season, Williams took first for the second year in a row at the Colorado College Invitational on Sept. 10. He finished two seconds ahead of the second place runner. Williams helped a veteran Mines team win the Colorado College Invitational for the second year in a row.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Williams said of the national honor. “I know there are a lot of guys who are better than I am so it is a big honor that they recognized me from all the other runners. This year it is all about the team. I am glad we maintained our No. 1 ranking in the nation. That is what really matters.”

The Orediggers have high expectations this season and they know they won’t sneak up on any teams. Mines won its first national championship last fall in Pittsburg, Kan.

With so many returners back, the Orediggers began the 2016 season as the top ranked team in Division II.

“We know the target is on our backs now,” Mines coach Chris Siemer said. “We are normally the team that is kind of flying under the radar. That has definitely changed. It is a matter of staying hungry and staying focused. They have a great idea now of what it takes, both mentally and physically. They are definitely up to the challenge.”

All summer, Williams said, the Orediggers thought about the national title they won because they want to have a good team this season and put themselves in position to successfully defend the title.

“We had a lot of people stay here over the summer and train together,” Williams said. “We were able to regain that team chemistry that we had previously.”

Siemers is coaching a veteran squad and those seniors are perfect examples to the younger runners entering the program to see the hard work it takes to succeed at a national level.

“Our leadership couldn’t be any stronger,” Siemers said. “We have three, fifth-year seniors: Nathanael Williams, Daniel Mahoney and Seth Topper. We feel like those three are a big reason the program is where it is at now. They came in as freshmen, learned the ropes, paid the toll and put in a lot of hard work to get to where they are now.”

Siemers knows the runners who enter his program must be motivated just to handle the challenging courses at Colorado School of Mines.

Williams admitted he didn’t have much time to celebrate the national title a year ago because almost immediately after the national meet, he was thinking about his classes.

Williams earned his degree in metallurgical and materials engineering last spring and is now working on his master’s program this fall. Cross country provides the perfect balance for Williams and the other runners at Mines.

“School definitely comes first for us,” Williams said. “Running is sort of that break we get from school. When we run, that is our break. We don’t talk about school. We are out there running and having fun together.”

Winona volleyball wins first 10 matches before falling to No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul

The Winona State women's volleyball team got off to a great start before its first loss.
Jordan Vredeveld | Winona State Athletics
The Winona State women's volleyball team got off to a great start before its first loss.
Senior defensive specialist Jamie Cairncross is part of a Winona State volleyball team that returns all its starters from a squad that went 20-10 a year ago.

“It is really good for our team chemistry,” Cairncross said. “We all get along really well on and off the court. It has made this year a lot more fun. We have more jokes. Even practice is more fun.”

The Warriors need that upbeat attitude to navigate through the rugged Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, which is currently the undisputed toughest volleyball conference in Division II.

Winona State won its first 10 matches of the season and moved to No. 9 last week in the American Volleyball Coaches Association top 25. In most conferences, those credentials would make you the team to beat.

The Northern Sun is another monster. Led by No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul, the Northern Sun has the top four schools in the most recent AVCA poll, with Wayne State (Neb.), Minnesota Duluth and Southwest Minnesota State grabbing the next three spots.

“We go into every match knowing it is going to be a tough game. We have to play our best. That being said, it is really fun knowing we have a big game every week.”

In addition to the top four teams, Northern State is 10th in the poll and Augustana is 20th. Against Augustana in the Pentagon Tournament on Sept. 10, Cairncross had a career-best 32 digs, which helped the Warriors to a 3-0 victory. Her performance helped her earn NSIC player of the week last week.

“It is really nice to have recognition, but it is better to know the team is behind you,” Cairncross said. “We have played well and that allowed me to get recognition.”

The Warriors started conference play on Thursday and beat Minnesota State 3-0. Winona State suffered its first loss on Saturday, falling on the road to Concordia-St. Paul, the No. 1 ranked team.

At 1-1 in NSIC, the Warriors play only conference matches the rest of the regular season, and they know they need to be ready each night they play.

“The Northern Sun is stacked,” Winona State coach Joe Getzin said. “It is unbelievable. That is the best part of this league. No matter who you are playing, from top to bottom, you have to bring your A game or you are going to walk out of the gym with a loss. I think that is why the conference has had success over the years at the national level. Our players realize each point, each set is important. You don’t get any time off.”

Getzin, though, likes the team he is taking into these battles. The defensive play of Cairncross is one of the reasons why Winona State has been successful so far.

“One, she passes the serve,” Getzin said. “It keeps us in our offensive system. She is extremely good at that. There were several times the past couple of weeks where we had a missed assignment from a couple of blockers and she had their back. She has phenomenal digs and doesn’t let the ball hit the floor. That is our identity as a team. That tenacious defense starts with her.

“Taylor Goar is probably our top attacker. She has had a really good preseason as well. Lauren Kudronowicz is playing extremely well. They have the mentality they are not going to lose and they spread that throughout the team.”

Football upset of the week

A blocked extra point by junior defensive back Dustin Rivas in the second overtime secured a thrilling 41-40 victory by No. 23 Colorado Mesa at No. 10 Colorado School of Mines. It is the second straight year Colorado Mesa has won the Nykios Cup.

Mines scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to force overtime.

In the second overtime, Mesa went ahead 41-34 on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Sean Rubalcaba to Virnel Moon. The extra point by Ryan Sheehan turned out to be the difference

Games to watch results

  • No. 20 North Alabama forced four turnovers, which helped the Lions to a 44-19 victory at home against No. 22 Valdosta State. Both teams are 1-1. North Alabama senior quarterback Jacob Tucker rushed for 108 yards and one touchdown.
  • West Texas A&M beat University of Texas of the Permian Basin 48-14 Sunday afternoon. The game at Permian Basin was originally scheduled for Saturday evening but was moved because of inclement weather. West Texas A&M junior quarterback Ethan Brinkley completed 34 of 50 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns.