MITCHELL, SD—“What a way to start the trip,” shouted Lexi Zeis, as she entered her coach’s office this (Thursday) morning after hearing the news that the charter bus taking them to the NCAA Central Region Cross Country Championships in Kearney, NE, would be delayed by about an hour. “Worry about the things you can control, and not about the things you can’t control,” countered the whisker-faced Head Coach, Dennis Newell, whose mustache contorted as he grinned. “We’ll adjust and keep moving on.”

That’s been the mind-set of the women’s team since last year when Ida Narbuvoll, one of their top recruits from Norway, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury and what many on the team first thought could be career ending—a potentially devastating blow for the number two runner and a team that had championship aspirations in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Faced with the reality that Narbuvoll won’t be back and ready to go until sometime in 2018, the Marauders were in search of a temporary fix, or a new distance runner that could fill those shoes and possibly compete behind Zeis, the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Champion. Instead of going out and recruiting someone else, University of Mary coaches realized early on that, that person already held a spot on the roster and beginning to show encouraging results. Her name? Bismarck, ND, native Jaiden Schuette.

“It happened organically with Jaiden,” said Newell, a physiology major in his college days, who sat at the head of the bus devising the team’s annual training plan that maps a daily strategy to help his athletes get faster and faster during the season. It’s a system he partially credits to the success of his athletes like Schuette. But to Newell, it’s more than that.

“The University of Mary was Jaiden’s first choice, Bre’s first choice, Lexi’s first choice, Kate’s first choice, Sydney’s first choice. These are all girls who wanted to be here at Mary. This was their first choice. There are so many agents making each of these girls stronger as the season goes on, they’re not just connected by talent alone: they’re all experiencing success; they’re all best friends; they are all blue-collar, hard-working athletes that share the same goals and have bought into the program’s philosophy and culture. This group is all in and it’s something special.”

It showed at the conference championships two weeks ago in Moorhead as five Marauders finished in the top 10, including a one-two finish from Zeis and Schuette, respectively—according to Newell, a defining moment in Schuette’s college career.

“That race solidified that she’s here,” said Newell, of Schuette. “Every practice and every race was building up to that moment. Week after week we were saying, ‘that’s a breakthrough, that’s a breakthrough.’”

And now they hope to be echoing those same words about Schuette for the upcoming regional championships on Saturday, Nov. 4, and the NCAA Championships in Evansville, IN, on Saturday, Nov. 18.

Meanwhile, the first leg of this trip is complete. Their bus arrived in Mitchell, SD: not late, but actually ahead of schedule, thanks to GPS and some two-way highway shortcuts. Next stop for Schuette and the Marauders? Kearney, NE.