Story by Jackson Riebel
MINNEAPOLIS -- By the time he began his first practice as a member of the University of Minnesota men’s cross country team this past August, University of Minnesota freshman Hunter Lucas had built himself an impressive resume to show for his young running career.
The 2016 Powerade North Dakota Senior Athlete of the Year won multiple state championships while competing on the cross country and track & field teams at Fargo Davies High School and took home titles in the 3,000 meters and 1,500 meters at the 2016 USATF Junior Olympic National Championships. Minnesota director of men’s track and field/cross country Steve Plasencia liked what he saw, and convinced Lucas to sign with the Gophers over the likes of North Dakota State, Iowa State, and Boise State.
But while Lucas has always been an athlete, he wasn’t always a runner. Growing up in Fargo his parents gave him every opportunity to figure out which sports he preferred, and Lucas tried his hand in just about every one. Football, baseball, golf, swimming – Lucas did it all. He says he considered hockey his main sport until his junior year of high school.
So what exactly was it that inspired Lucas to pick up the sport that he now competes in collegiately at the Division I level?
“I get asked that quite a bit,” Hunter says with a smile. “It’s kind of a weird story.”
Lucas was finishing the sixth grade when the school’s cross-country coaches, John Watkin and Jason Holland, called a team meeting to discuss the upcoming season. The meeting was during a class period, so as any middle schooler would do, Lucas jumped at the prospect of getting out of class and headed over to the meeting.
The coaches turned out to be quite the salesmen. If getting out of class hadn’t already convinced Lucas to join the team, the next perk certainly did.
“They mentioned the team went to Dairy Queen every Wednesday,” Hunter recalled. “I have a sweet tooth, so I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll run cross country!’”
Lucas joined the team the next fall and never looked back. What started by chance that day in middle school blossomed into a running career that had him to competing against the best runners in the nation by the end of his time at Fargo Davies. He hasn’t seemed to slow down since arriving on campus.
By finishing fourth in the Junior Men’s 8K at the 2018 USA Cross Country Championships on Feb. 3, Lucas earned a bid to represent Team USA at the 2018 NACAC Cross Country Championships in La Libertad, El Salvador. This past Saturday he lined up to compete against athletes from 12 different countries in the Men’s U20 eight-kilometer race.
The race started out slow as racers struggled to separate from each other in the 95-degree Central American heat. The first two kilometers were filled with contact as runners jostled for position, but Lucas felt he was in decent shape as the race began to string out.
“Then I started to feel the heat,” Lucas said. “I don’t think I prepared well enough for that.”
Lucas ended up covering the course in 27:08.0, good for 22nd out of 39 runners. While he was disappointed with how he finished, the young runner was thankful to have made the trip and listed making Team USA as his proudest moment as an athlete.
“Not everybody is given the opportunity to do that, but I was lucky enough to be able to go represent my country,” Lucas said after returning to Minneapolis. “That doesn’t come very often.”
As fun as the experience in El Salvador was, Lucas must now turn his attention back to the outdoor track and field season and is especially looking forward to honing his times in the 5,000 meters and 3,000 meters. Part of what sold him on Minnesota when choosing a college was the feeling of brotherhood amongst the team, and he wants to help return the program to the NCAA Cross Country Championships on an every-year basis. “We have to get there every year, like Coach [Plasencia] has been doing over his career here.”
If he and his teammates succeed, they may just owe themselves a trip to a local Dairy Queen to celebrate. For one member of the team in particular it would only be fitting.
Lucas Adds to Resume in El Salvador
2/22/2018 - M. Cross Country
Gopher freshman Hunter Lucas finished 22nd at the 2018 NACAC Cross Country Championships in La Libertad, El Salvador.
Lucas Reps 'U' in El Salvador
2/18/2018 - M. Cross Country
A native of Fargo, N.D., Lucas finished 22nd on Saturday, covering the course in 27:08.0.
'U' Programs Earn USTFCCCA Academic Honors
2/9/2018 - M. Cross Country
Both programs were among the best in the Big Ten with the women pacing the conference and the men ranking second.