Fassbender leads cross country to 5th


Morgan Guenther

Freshman Christian Seagren tries to overtake several runners during the Tom Hoffman Invitational meet in Whitewater on Sept. 18, 2021.

Mikey Rottier, Assistant Sports Editor

The UW-Whitewater men’s cross country team had one of their best seasons in program history this fall. After winning their first regional title in program history, they placed fifth at the National meet. The leader of the Warhawk pack was experienced veteran David Fassbender, who finished first place in five of the team’s races, as the catalyst of Whitewater’s success. 

Three athletes on the Warhawk cross country team were awarded All-American honors for placing in the top 30 at the national championship meet. In addition to David Fassbender’s sixth place finish, freshman runners Christian Patzka and Gunner Schlender followed not far behind Fassbender with 23rd and 26th place finishes. 

Fassbender recorded a time of 23:57.1 at the national championship, tying his previous personal record which stands as the second fastest time in program history. After a successful career with the Whitewater cross country program, the seasoned veteran said this about his experience.

“It means a lot, and just with the experience of being at the National Championship now for the third time it has been a really fun experience. Just knowing that you are up there and knowing that you are going to have to latch on and perform at your very best is an unbelievably thrilling feeling,” Fassbender said. “I am really satisfied with the way I finished my career. There are so many great guys, even the teammates I go up against are all really nice guys to me and everybody. I haven’t really met anybody in it for themselves. It is really just about understanding where you have to be and being ready for the moment. It has been a great experience.”

Cross country is certainly a sport and atmosphere that creates a bond like no other. Gunner Schlender attributed a portion of the team’s success to the healthy atmosphere and the closeness between the runners on the team. 

“It is definitely the healthiest team environment that I have ever been in,” Schlender said. “We are really tight knit as a group but we are also able to get on each other when the situation requires it. My role was to follow the path that the more decorated guys have paved, so as far as a team environment goes a lot of that is from the top and carries down. Guys like David really paved the way and it was really easy for us as younger guys to step in and follow their lead, and they kind of made that team culture. And then, it was our responsibility to contribute to it and make sure that it stays the same way.”

A general consensus among the Warhawk runners was a fondness and appreciation for head coach Jeff Miller. In his 40th season, the team wanted to give him a season to remember with the amount of potential they had this fall. 

“I just want to give a lot of credit to Coach Miller, as his 40th season. Going into the season we knew we had a lot of talent so the plan was to make this a fairytale season for him, in his 40th year,” Schlender said. “That was the most satisfying thing to me, he has given so much to our program that it was amazing to represent Whitewater and Coach Miller and all the other coaches throughout the season. When we are out there running we’re running for each other and the University and most importantly him and what he has created.”

Jeff Miller has certainly meant a lot to the Whitewater cross country program and cultivated an atmosphere of team culture, loyalty and respect. He has been able to command the Whitewater squad for so long and earn appreciation and respect from his athletes, which has paid off with their dedication to give him a season they thought he deserved. 

“It meant a lot to be a part of the most consistent successful season in over 50 years. We will use this season as a model and hope to have a similar season next year, with the added goal of winning the WIAC cross country title and placing in the top four in the NCAA division three National Championships,” Miller said. 

The future is bright for the Warhawk cross country program and Miller will no doubt look to build off this seasons’ success and momentum. For now they all deserve some time to reflect and soak in this seasons’ triumph.

Senior David Fassbender looks to overtake other runners during the Tom Hoffman Invitational in Whitewater on Sept. 18, 2021. (Morgan Guenther)