University of Nebraska at Omaha distance runner Willa Koenig’s high school record speaks for itself.
A Lincoln Pius X graduate, Koenig was a state qualifying runner for both track and field as well as cross country. In both 2014 and 2015, Koenig came out on top as the District B-3 Cross Country Champion (2014) and the District A-2 Cross Country Champion (2015).
Koenig’s love for running started when she was young, when she found herself running a lot while she played competitive soccer. “When I was pretty young I did all of the fun runs,” Koenig said.
It wasn’t until around seventh and eighth grade Koenig started competing. In high school Koenig was inspired by her coach George O’Boyle.
“He was kind of a legend at our school,” Koenig said. “He was always really supportive and helped all of us.”
After high school, Koenig decided to come to UNO because not only could she see herself here, but she could see herself being successful here. “I knew UNO had the resources that I would need to become a better runner,” Koenig said. Aside from running, Koenig was also drawn to the school’s engineering program.
So far, Koenig has not been disappointed with her time at UNO as a runner. “I really like my teammates,” Koenig said. “The work-outs are also different then what I’m used to, but I enjoy doing something different.”
Koenig said that being a college athlete has been rewarding so far because it has offered her a chance to continue her passion for running while providing her with the resources to take it to the next level.
What sets cross country apart from other sports is the fact that all of the players are out there doing the same exact thing while trying to individually complete the same goal—to win the race, which is what Koenig said she enjoys most about the sport.
“It has a good team feel and we have all summer to prepare together,” Koenig said.
Aside from that, Koenig was also drawn to the sport because she loves to be outside.
Whether it’s preseason or during the season, running takes a lot of preparation outside of practices alone. Koenig shared some of her secrets for staying fit and healthy in order to be a successful runner, saying strength-training, eating right and getting plenty of sleep are major keys.
All of this preparation has been proven successful so far this season. Koenig was the top finisher for the Mavericks at the season’s opening race.
UNO assistant cross country and track coach, Cliff Cisar said Koenig brings tenacity to the team.
“We’ve only had one race so far where we could see her race with the Omaha jersey, but she went out there and raced really calmly,” Cisar said. “Both of the older runners and also the freshman will step up and we’ll be able to take it to that level that we want to.”
So far, the cross country season and Koenig’s season look promising.
After just one race the women have already scored better than they did during their last season, and now we can wait and see what else Koenig and the rest of the team will bring to the table this fall.
“The hardest thing is being in two places at once,” Key said. “Trying to get around and be there for both teams, it gets difficult.”
The men’s team finished in seventh place with a score of 901 at Arbor-Links, as hosts of the men’s side of the tournament. Ontario native, sophomore Kevin Gordon led the Mavs who finished at par and tied for second overall with a score of 216 over 54 holes. Fellow sophomore Ben Maskus from Shawnee Mission, Kansas, was second on the team and seventh overall with a final score of 220. Omaha native and senior Mitch Ryan tied for 26th overall with a score of 230.
Another Kansas native, freshman Kelly Brown had a 242 which put him in 40th. Freshmen Max Hellstrom from Stockholm, Sweden, finished with 244 to round things out for the men.
Maskus and Ryan are two seniors to watch on the men’s team this year. “They are kind of the anchor of the team and have great leadership,” Key said. “They push the guys to get better each day.”
The best rounds of the tournament for the Mavericks were a pair of 69’s, three under par by Gordon. Maskus ended his tournament by parring his final round with a 72.
Sophomore Sam Musch shot a 76 for the team’s third best score on his third round of the tournament
and finished with a 242.
“We finished second in the Summit last year and we bring back all five guys so our goal is to win the Summit League this year and I feel that is really possible,” Key said.
The men’s team will be back in action starting Sept. 12 in the John Dallio Memorial hosted by DePaul University at the Prairie Landing Golf Club in West Chicago.
Coach Key stressed that a hard work ethic is the ‘key’ to both team’s successes now and in the future.
“If we can lay the ground work and have people that want to work hard come in like we have then I’m sure the accolades and awards will follow,” Key said.