The Chamberlain cross country team is nearing the end of its season, but the leaders on both the boys and girls teams have been able to push the Cubs to new heights.

Last season, Kinsey Evans led the girls team to a Region 4A cross country title and Dominic Santiago claimed the boys individual title. This season looks on pace to be familiar, but the leadership has changed the mentality of the team.

This season, the Cubs girls won their first three meets of the year and three runners finished in the top-10 of each event. Kinsey Evans led the way finishing in first in all three of those meets and was ahead of the second-place finisher by an average of 36 seconds.

Chamberlain coach Holly Evans noticed the trajectory this team was on and made a late schedule change to get her team on the course with steeper competition.

“There just weren’t as many athletes so we needed to start getting in some bigger meets,” Holly Evans said. “So we went to Huron and raced against some Class A and Class AA schools. We went to Sioux Falls for the Nike Heartland Preview, as well as Rapid City, where they had to compete against larger numbers of athletes … I wanted all of our athletes to be able to compete against those girls.”

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Holly Evans attempted to the adjustment last season, her first year of coaching, when she realized the majority of meets Chamberlain was a part of were only scoring three for the varsity. At the state level, Class A meets record four runners for the team score.

“We made some adjustments last year to our schedule but we weren’t able to go to Sioux Falls or Rapid City due to COVID-19, so this year, we’re able to go to those meets and see them compete,” Holly Evans said.

The change in schedule suited Chamberlain. They’ve won two of its last four meets and Kinsey Evans has finished in the top-10 in all four, including one first-place finish and one second-place finish.

Kinsey Evans, a sophomore, embraced the challenges of being a young leader and facing bigger competition. She said former teammate Ella Byers, the former two-time Class A state champion now starring for the University of South Dakota, was a great mentor in preparing her for moments like this.

“It feels different, but when I was a seventh grader I had Ella Byers as a leader for me and she really helped me a lot,” Kinsey Evans said. “She was a leader to me because I came from middle school races to varsity races all of sudden, but she helped me a lot. She was telling me just to run your race and always believe in yourself.”

Kinsey, who was eighth at the 2020 state meet, is still challenged every day by her own teammates Aine Graesser, Kylah Biggins and Allison Hough, but her true running partner and teammate that challenges her to another level is Santiago.

Chamberlain's Dom Santiago runs in the Scotland Invitational cross country meet Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021 at the Dawson Creek Golf Course. (Courtesy photo)
Chamberlain's Dom Santiago runs in the Scotland Invitational cross country meet Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021 at the Dawson Creek Golf Course. (Courtesy photo)

Santiago and Kinsey Evans have been running partners for most of this season and often compete in practices. Santiago, who Holly Evans calls an amazing runner and self-motivator, has won three meets thus far and finished in the top-eight of every meet this season.

His regime that’s led to his success has not been attributed to cross country, but to wrestling. Santiago wrestles for the Cubs and during the summers and he believes that’s added to his grit and tenacity as a runner over the years.

“Wrestling definitely gives me a lot of grit,” Santiago said. “It gives me a lot of heart to keep on running in the middle of those races when it gets tough. You have to just keep going and keep your head up.”

Santiago is the lone senior and the leader of a boys team that only consists of seven runners on the roster. He said he enjoys being that leader that leads by example for a young core of the team.

“I like to consider myself a leader and that I work hard in practice so I hope it's something they’ve picked up over the years,” Santiago said. “Hopefully my teammates carry over that mindset and we have a good team in the future. I’m definitely going to keep up with them.”

Chamberlain hosts the Region 4A meet again at Chamberlain Country Club on Oct. 14 and just like last year, Holly Evans expects nothing less from her team.

“Our expectations and goals are to come away as region champs as a team,” Holly Evans said. “We want to get the team qualified for state and we’re going to try our hardest to put a boys team together and get them qualified as well.”