“We’re a big family here.” That’s how Mathias Werve described the team.
At the head of the family is Head Coach Jeff Miller, who is entering his 30th season of coaching the cross country team at UW-Whitewater. But the heart and soul of the family are the five big brothers that have been here the longest.
Those runners are fifth-year seniors Werve and Dan “Chazz O’Neil” Machmueller, and seniors Joe Dixon, Christopher Kautza, and Ben Knapp.
These five are hoping this year’s team has what it takes to win conference for the first time since 1965 and qualify for nationals, which has not happened since 2003.
The five all share a passion for running and all have similar goals, but Miller says they are very different people at heart.
“They all work hard, but no two are alike. Each guy is very much his own person,” Miller said. “At practice they can be colorful, serious or quiet. They all lead by example but do it in their own way.”
The group will have to work hard this season to replace the talent lost from last year.
A season ago the Warhawks placed in the top three in four of their five regular season meets. They also finished fourth in the WIAC Championship and seventh at the NCAA Midwest Regional.
Leaders from last year were Aron Kehoe and David Schneekloth, who finished 44th and 47th respectively at the NCAA Division-III Championships.
The roster of 17 this season carries eight freshmen and one sophomore. Compared to last season when the team had nine seniors.
“With these guys, they know what’s going on out there,” Miller said. “They come in knowing the expectations, the routine and how to help the other runners. That is invaluable and unfortunately we won’t have any of them next year.”
Miller and the team will be losing more than 40 collective years of running experience after the five depart, which is why the group has placed such an emphasis on helping the incoming freshmen this season.
“We believe we have a very good team, but it’s still early for them yet,” Werve said. “I remember when I started running in college; it’s a tough transition.”
Kautza and Knapp agreed that making the leap from the high school level to the collegiate level is no easy task.
“We show the young guys how to train and how to race,” Knapp said. “Because we run 8k instead of 5k, there’s stuff you can’t get away with here that you could in high school.”
“Some people struggle with injuries, but it comes down to experience,” Kautza said. “Incoming freshmen have to get acclimated to the differences between college and high school. Distance is huge, but we also try to help them with their timemanagement skills.”
During practice the five work hard to set an example for the young team and believe that success will come through unity.
“This season we’ve tried to be a closer-knit group, so we do activities outside of practice as a team,” Werve said. “It doesn’t matter what the sport is, if you don’t have good chemistry you won’t perform well.”
The group takes their roles as leaders seriously, but tries to have fun.
“I joke around at practice all the time, it’s important to keep the mood light; Joe and Mathias are always there to keep me in line,” Machmueller said. “Most of my friends, and enemies, are on this team.”
The seniors came into the season losing several talented teammates and are faced this year with the task of preparing a host of new runners.
Even with these obstacles, Dixon is certain this team will go far.
“In previous years expectations were high and we knew what to expect,” Dixon said. “We lost a lot of people but because we’re so young, we can only get better as the season goes on. With a little work we could finish in the top ten at regionals.”
For this group, the road will be long, the competition will be fierce, but the sky is the limit.