When Adams State senior Kyle Masterson steps to the starting line for the NCAA Division II South Central Regional on Saturday (Nov. 5) in Denver, he and his teammates will be running for a greater purpose than just individual achievement.

Of course, all the Grizzlies competing would like to finish in the top 10 simply because it helps the team score.

Adams State is ranked third the USTFCCCA Top 25. The Grizzlies are coming off a second-place finish at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference meet behind No. 1 ranked and defending national champions Colorado School of Mines. The two teams will face each other at regionals and likely again at nationals on Nov. 19 in Saint Leo, Fla. 

“It has been beneficial for all the teams because you always have to be on your A-game,” Masterson said of competing in a tough conference and region. “In this sport of cross country, sometimes with the training, you can’t be at the top of your game every single week. We definitely saw that this past week with us.

“With so many teams in our conference who are constantly bringing it and are consistently some of the top teams in the country, it never allows you to slack.”

RELATED: Division II Men's USTFCCCA Poll

When competition is at a heightened level, gaining an edge is important and many times that edge comes from purpose because runners in all the top programs are training hard.

The Grizzlies have that purpose.

“When we get to this time of the year, and go off to a big meet, we are not just running for our teammates, we are running for the campus and the whole town,” Masterson said. “Everyone has invested in us one way or another. We really appreciate that. We enjoy the opportunity to represent Adams State and Alamosa, (Colo.) as a whole.”

Because Masterson was granted a medical redshirt last year, he is in his sixth season as a student-athlete at Adams State. He picked Adams State because he felt the school and the program could best help him achieve his goals.

“Some of those goals have been met,” he said. “I was part of a team that was national champions in 2013. That was definitely one of my goals. I have been All-American and that was one of my goals. Now you set your goals higher.”

Masterson credits cross country coach Damon Martin for helping him grow as a runner and a person. Masterson came to Adams State with impressive credentials. He had a 3.8 GPA in high school and President of National Honor Society.

“Coach Martin knows what he is doing,” Masterson said. “He guides us in the right direction, but we have to be the ones who get out there and actually do the training and put the work in.

“He has challenged me a lot to do big things on and off the course. It has been a priceless experience. Being here at Adams State has really changed my life for the better. I am a lot better person and a better runner.”

Teammates have also pushed Masterson. At the RMAC meet, Masterson took eighth. Sophomore Sydney Gidabuday was first, junior Lucio Ramirez was ninth and junior Jackson Sayler was 12th.

“I just like being on a team like this,” Masterson said. “Everyone is stepping it up. There is a different lion that roars every day. If you are having a bad day, one of your teammates is breathing down your neck. That has pushed me to be a lot better than I thought I ever could be.”

Winning as a team means more for University of Mary junior Lexi Zeis

Lexi Zeis finished second in last week's Northern Sun meet.
Jamie Schwaberow | NCAA Photos
Lexi Zeis finished second in last week's Northern Sun meet.
Last week at the Northern Sun women’s cross country meet, University of Mary junior Lexi Zeis finished second and she was happier than when she won the national individual title a year ago.

Zeis has been such a dominate runner that the last time she wasn’t first in a cross country meet was 2014. Since then, Zeis had placed first in seven straight meets.

So what made her so happy? The University of Mary won its first conference title in its Division II era. The Marauders won six conference titles when they were in the NAIA.

“It is 10,000 times better, knowing that we all accomplished the same goal,” Zeis said. “It was really awesome. We were a contender for the title and to come home with it was even better. It lifts up our confidence going into the regional. I think it is awesome we are the first team in the NCAA era to bring home a conference title. It really shows we have been working hard. We wanted it. We wanted it bad.”

Coach Dennis Newell, who is in his 10th season leading the Marauders, appreciates the attitude Zeis brings to the team.

“Lexi didn’t ask me once about her individual performance after the conference meet,” Newell said. “She asked me how the team did. As I sat back and watched the team interact after the meet, it was very refreshing to see how she handled it.

“I’m not going to say she didn’t want to win. I am sure she did. She held that inside and understood the team victory was more important than an individual victory. She will use that for motivation at regionals and nationals.”

The focus for the Marauders now is the Central Regional on Saturday (Nov. 5) in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“We are over the hump now,” Zeis said. “Conference is just the start. Now we are ready to go. Everybody has confidence. We know what the regional course is like because we just ran on it at conference.”

There are several reasons, Newell said, why the Marauders are stronger this season from the team that placed 12th a year ago at the national championships.

“We had a couple of good transfers come into our program,” Newell said. “We have a couple of really good freshmen who are running lights out. I think the maturity of the entire team and the expectations of the program. There are a lot of factors that go into it.

“I think overall it has been an evolution for the program. We are continuing to make progress and get stronger. That is what good programs should be doing. We are moving in the right direction.”

Rockhurst men’s soccer bounces back from second loss of season

Rockhurst defeated William Jewell 3-0 in its last game.
Doug Schwennger | Rockhurst Athletics
Rockhurst defeated William Jewell 3-0 in its last game.
Rockhurst junior forward Kaleb Jackson wanted to be on the field Wednesday to help the Hawks win a game before the start of the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament.

But Jackson joined a couple of teammates and he missed his first game of the season because of an injury. Still, the sixth-ranked Hawks were able to beat William Jewell 3-0 without Jackson, who leads the team with 10 goals.

“Being a player, it is always hard to miss a game after working so hard in the preseason and playing every game and not being out there with the team,” said Jackson, who recently made the 2016 Division II Academic All-District team. “That is the worst part about it.

“But we have a lot of depth on our team so I know there are players who step up and take my place.”

Depth is why Rockhurst is 14-2-1 despite losing some key players to injuries. Rockhurst head coach Tony Tocco liked the way the Hawks overcame that adversity to win on Wednesday.

“At this point in time, I think we are playing Ok,” Tocco said. “The problem right now is we still have some injuries. We still have Adam Michel hurt. He is definitely out for another week, maybe two. Paul Dean is out for the rest of the year. Three starters who are phenomenal players.

“Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. You got to go out and people who are healthy to play got to step up and keep playing well.”

Another reason the Hawks have been able to overcome the injuries is the experience returning from a team that reached the semifinals of the NCAA Division II tournament.

“We lost only one senior who started for us last year,” said associate head coach Giorgio Antongirolami. “We had a solid group of returning juniors and seniors. That is why our season has been good so far. It is why we have been able to play through all the injuries this year.

“We have the right balance of offense and defense. Last year we were very strong defensively. We won a lot of games in overtime because we were able to stay in the game because of our defense. This year, offense to defense, we are very balanced.”

Jackson expects to be back soon and be ready for postseason. He likes this time of year when each game carries so much meaning.

“It puts an emphasis on every game,” Jackson said. “The stakes are a little bit higher. It makes the games more fun. I think it is what we look forward to. We like playing in that situation where if we win, we move on and if we lose, we go home.”