Southwest Minnesota State University Director of Athletics Chris Hmielewski announced today that SMSU will reinstate women’s and men’s cross country as a varsity program and possibly begin competition as early as this fall season.
SMSU sponsored men’s cross country from 1968 until suspending the program following the 1990 season, while SMSU had women’s cross country from 1979 to 1984 and again from 1986 to 1990, but rarely fielded a full squad.
Hmielewski also announced on Monday that Nate Wolf would serve as the head coach for both programs. Wolf recently completed his first season as head women’s and men’s cross country coach at Northwestern College (Iowa). Prior to being named head coach, Wolf spent seven seasons as an assistant coach for the Red Raider cross country programs. Wolf also served as the head women’s and men’s track coach at Northwestern for eight seasons (2005-12).
“We are excited about the addition of Nate Wolf to our head coaching staff,” Hmielewski said. “Nate has been instrumental in the continueddevelopment in both the cross country and track and field programs at Northwestern. He understands and stresses to his student-athletes the importance of academic success, creating a competitive athletic environment and providingstudent-athletes civic engagement opportunities that help build leadership and life skills. Nate will begin to recruit student-athletes for our cross country program through the summer months in hope of fielding teams this fall.”
During his tenure, Wolf led Northwestern student-athletes to 38 NAIA All-American performances, including a school record number of 15 this past season, eight during the indoor season and seven for outdoor. Wolf helped guide an individual to the 2012 NAIA Indoor National Championship in the high jump, the fourth national championship performance in the program's history.
“Nate possesses a strong recruiting background in our region that will aid us in building a competitive cross country program in the NSIC,” Hmielewski said. “I would like to welcome Nate and his wife Lori to the Mustang family!”
Wolf was named the 2007-08 Great Plains Athletic Conference Women’s Track Indoor Coach of the Year, leading Northwestern to its first top-10 finish at the 2008 NAIA Indoor National Championships. This past season’s women’s cross country team received votes for the NAIA national poll and finished fifth in the 11-team Great Plains Athletic Conference.
“I would like to thank President Ron Wood, Athletic Director Chris Hmielewski, and the entire administration of Southwest Minnesota State for giving me this opportunity,” Wolf said. “It is unique to be able to start a program at an institution of the caliber that SMSU is. I look forward to the challenge of building a competitive NCAA Division II cross country team that represents the university and rest of the Mustang athletic department well.”
In addition to his team’s athletics success, Wolf had 75 student-athletes earn NAIA Scholar-Athlete accolades during his tenure, while his squads have earned NAIA Scholar Team recognition five consecutive years. This spring, the Northwestern men’s track team earned the NAIA Five-Star Champions of Character award, given to teams that have displayed exemplary character and sportsmanship on the field, on campus and in the community.
Wolf competed at Northwestern in both cross country and track from 1999-2003, qualifying for the NAIA Track Nationals in both the mile and 3,000 meter runs. He served as team captain in both sports as a senior and was named the cross country team most valuable runner during hisfinal two seasons.
“I want to build a team with great unity and that is grounded in outstanding character,” Wolf said. “Mustang runners will possess and develop character traits like integrity, responsibility, accountability and discipline. I wantthem to integrate these character traits into their athletics, academics, and to apply them to their personal life, professional life and family life as well.”
Wolf, a native of Alma, Neb., is a 2003 graduate of Northwestern with a bachelor’s degree in biology health professions. He earned his master’s degree in 2005 from the University of South Dakota in athletic administration.
SMSU had four individuals qualify for the NAIA women’s cross country national championships in program history with Karen Evans and Nancy Carrow in 1982, Karla Kolln in 1986 and Julie Bauer in both 1987 and 1988. On the men’s side, a total of three individuals qualified for the NAIA national championships with Rick Lee in 1973, Mike Harland in 1977 and Harvey Reckard in 1983. Craig Olson, in 1985, is the only SMSU individual to win a conference championship.
A total of 14 schools will sponsor women’s cross country in the 16-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference this fall with the addition of new NSIC members Minot State and the University of Sioux Falls, along with SMSU. Upper Iowa is adding women’s cross country in 2013.
A total of 13 schools will sponsor men’s cross country this fall with the addition of SMSU, Minot State and University of Sioux Falls.
The last time SMSU added an intercollegiate sport was women’s golf in 1997.
Courtesy: Kelly Loft, SMSU