My Division II Story: Meg Schenk

Meg Schenk races at the 2018 Nike Heartland Regional competitive community race. Augustana runners whose seasons end before NCAA Regionals have the opportunity to compete at NXR.

Meg Schenk almost didn’t run in college.

Approaching the end of her running career at Harrisburg High School, Schenk thrived in both track and cross country. Despite Schenk’s success and love for the sport, she decided just before her senior year that her competitive running days would end after high school. Ultimately, one thing stood between Schenk and her pursuit of college athletics.

Schenk didn’t fit the prototype for a collegiate athlete — or so she thought.

“It was a tough decision, but I just didn’t think such a low-mileage runner had potential on a collegiate level,” Schenk said.

Then, Schenk spoke to Scott Tanis, assistant cross country and track coach at Augustana University — a small, Division II college with a community-centered culture. Schenk’s high school mileage didn’t deter Tanis from discussing “big goals”; he described Augustana runners’ individualized mileage plans, spanning from 25-50 miles per week. Regardless of mileage, Tanis saw potential in Schenk.

After speaking with her high school coach, who mimicked Tanis’s beliefs, Schenk signed to run at Augustana.

Schenk (far right) runs with teammates at Tomar Park in Sioux Falls during an afternoon cross country practice.

Now a junior, Schenk adores the team’s competitive, tight-knit culture that breeds an urgency to excel. Among many things, Schenk’s drive arises from “the opportunity to be incredibly competitive with some very good Division II schools.”

Then, on Thursday evening, Augustana University announced its goal to transition to Division I athletics. Though this goal comprises part of “AU: Vision 2030,” the college strives for acceptance into a conference by December 2020, according to Athletic Director Josh Morton’s email to Augustana student-athletes Friday.

The announcement frustrated Schenk and other Augustana athletes.

“This change makes me incredibly sad for myself, my teammates, my coaches, and my professors,” Schenk said. “All of us have worked hard to develop an atmosphere that truly epitomizes Augie’s tight-knit culture.”

Ultimately, Schenk said that the division upgrade would threaten this culture. She said that Augustana best reflects Division II values: a belief in the athlete and an academic-athletic balance.

Additionally, Schenk said that the Division I switch would worsen recruiting, as athletes with untapped potential would be shut out.

Schenk races at the 2018 Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis.

“Myself and many of my teammates would not have even been recruited to come to Augie had Augie been DI,” Schenk said. “I have watched firsthand mediocre freshmen come in [who] would have never been considered at a DI program train hard and do big things at a national meet.”

Though a Division I upgrade might bring “fancier buildings and better training facilities,” Schenk said that she would never sacrifice Augustana’s culture to acquire them.

“I truly hope in 30 years from now, I am able to come back to Augie and recognize the small community it is today,” Schenk said. “To change that is to destroy Augie’s mission completely.”

Paige Sunstrom and Schenk race side-by-side at the 2017 Woody Greeno Cross Country Invitational in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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