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DWU's Panec prepared for national cross country meet

Jeremiah Panec is ready for another national cross country meet with a different preparation plan.

The Dakota Wesleyan University senior cross country runner has qualified for his second straight NAIA national cross country championships. This year's national meet is Saturday in Vancouver, Washington.

He's going into this year's race better prepared after struggling at last year's nationals in Elsah, Illinois.

"He's improved a lot in his race-plan execution and so he's got a solid plan heading into this race as far as how to handle it," DWU cross country coach Derik Fossum said. "But the way that he is right now with his mental preparation, his physical preparation—he's at the kind of place that no matter what happens at the race, he's ready to handle what's there."

Panec, who hails from Kenesaw, Nebraska, admitted he wasn't ready for last year's race at nationals. He tried to lead the pack of 331 runners and quickly got overwhelmed. He finished in 135th place with a time of 26 minutes and 16.10 seconds.

"It was a huge learning experience from last year because that was the biggest race I have ever been in," Panec said. "I took off scared last year and that ended up biting me hard. I might have beaten everyone to the 1,000 (meter mark), but that's about as far as that went."

Panec credits much of his preparedness to new DWU graduate assistant coach Zachary Kughn, who is a former Montana State runner. Kughn has crafted race plans for Panec this season.

"It's helped a lot," Panec said. "At the beginning of the season, it didn't start out all that great. I think that was just me trying to get used to actually having a planned strategy for races, which sadly, it is something I haven't ever really done in the past."

It culminated at the recent Great Plains Athletic Conference championships in Sioux Center, Iowa. Panec edged Northwestern College's Tanner Goetsch for the individual title. Panec clocked in with a time of 24:56.09, just ahead of Goetsch (24:58.50).

"He was really excited about it and a lot of work went into that," Fossum said. "But his focus right away was turning back to getting ready for nationals."

At nationals, Panec's plan will be similar to the GPAC race. He hopes to stick with the top-15 runners before making his move toward the back end of the 8,000-meter race.

"I am pretty confident I am going to do much better I believe than last year," Panec said. "I think top-30 should be attainable."

A top-30 finish would put a bow on an already successful cross country career. He's the first DWU cross country runner to win a GPAC title and the first to qualify for two straight national meets since Thomas Madut in 2008 and 2009.

"It's really excited for our program and really exciting for Jeremiah," Fossum said. "It's really a credit to how hard Jeremiah has worked in the last four years."