Southwest Minnesota area runners excel at USF
The Cougars roster features several former southwest Minnesota prep standouts with Morgan Gehl, Moriah Bullerman, Kenadie Fick, Taryn Raulk, Gracie Bucher and Christian Lietz.
SIOUX FALLS — The University of Sioux Falls track and field team recently completed its indoor track season with the women’s team placing fourth at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. It is the highest finish for the Cougars women's team since the first year joining the conference in 2012.
The Cougars roster features several former southwest Minnesota prep standouts with Morgan Gehl from Fulda, Moriah Bullerman from Adrian, Kenadie Fick and Taryn Raulk from Hills-Beaver Creek, Gracie Bucher from Windom and Christian Lietz from Worthington.
The track and field director is Doug Petersen, who was a hall-of-fame coach at Adrian High School from 1975-2012. Petersen started coaching girls track and field for the Dragons in 1975, he added boys track and field in 1986 and coached both programs until 2012. He coached cross country from 1986-2008 and led the girls team to a record four consecutive Minnesota Class A state championships in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. His boys cross country teams finished runner-up in 2007 and third in 2008 in the Class A state meet.
Petersen became the director of track and field at USF in May 2017, having served in roles from part-time coach, head cross country coach, and then the role he has now as director of track and field since moving on from Adrian. Petersen said he made it a point of emphasis to recruit in southwest Minnesota.
“It always felt that southwest Minnesota is a really untapped area for recruiting,” said Petersen. “Knowing a lot of coaches in the area and knowing training that those coaches had the athletes doing, I have always thought it is a great area to do recruiting.”
Gehl won state championships while running for Fulda/Murray County Central and she has continued to be an excellent athlete at the collegiate level. Gehl ran the anchor leg of a distance medley relay that broke the USF school record, twice. The relay team ranked 16th in the nation and missed out on a national appearance which takes the top 12 relay teams.
“She actually has gotten a little bit stronger, her time in the mile is superior to what she had, and she’s run just off the old school record in the 5K outdoors and the 3K indoors,” said Petersen. “She was within probably a second and a half of those records.”
Another member of the school record-setting relay team is Khot Juac, who ran at Worthington up to her 8th grade year. Juac moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and became a star athlete at Washington High School. Juac is a sophomore at USF and has taken the school records that Gehl came close to in the 3K and 5K down significantly.
Christian Lietz graduated from Worthington High School in 2020, and now runs cross country and track and field at USF. Lietz has fought leg injuries this season but has enjoyed the challenge of collegiate athletics.
“Christian had a really good freshman year. He made our regional cross country team and put down some really good times in track and field,” said Petersen. "He fit in really well with our cross country and longer races on the tracks. His goal is to be really impactful for us next fall in cross country, that is where his passion is.”
“My senior year of cross country towards the end of the year I get a call one day and it is from coach Doug Petersen at USF,” said Lietz. “He told me he had seen my times and he really likes to recruit from southwest Minnesota. He gave me an offer with a scholarship, and the offer he gave me was pretty good, so I visited and ended up picking it as a school because it was near home.”
Lietz is a junior studying computer science, but is eligible for a fifth season due to the cross country season being canceled his first year on campus. He said that he is thinking of adding data science as a double major. Lietz said he has enjoyed teaming up with other student athletes from around the area at USF.
“In high school it would just be me and my friends working together trying to run fast and then we would always be worried about all these names from other schools,” said Lietz. “Just seeing everybody come together to one team after high school is pretty cool.”
“Pretty much everybody I am running against now was like me in high school,” said Lietz. “Those kids who worked really hard to get as good as they were, and everybody is just so driven and competitive it is a lot different.”
Bullerman is the second Adrian Dragon athlete Petersen has coached at USF. Bullerman is in her final year at USF and plans to attend veterinary school next fall.
“Moriah I never coached her at all at Adrian,” said Petersen. “I had her dad in class when I was teaching over there in Adrian.”
The USF women’s track and field team has had several records broken in the recent seasons under Petersen. Two records that he hopes to find new record breakers for are the indoor mile and the outdoor 1500 meter.
Under Petersen the recruiting process at USF has changed. In the years prior to taking the directorship post the USF team featured runners from 17 different states. The current team has student athletes from 11 states, with a majority coming from South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.
“We have gotten more centralized with our recruiting now just based on what we are looking for with our athletes,” said Petersen. “We are pretty specific on what we are looking for. Obviously we look for performances — that is really important — but we are also looking for athletes that fit the personality and character of the culture of the (present) athletes.”
USF outdoor track and field season will start in the upcoming weeks. The Cougars will look for continued success in the NSIC and Petersen plans for continued recruiting in the southwest Minnesota area.
“Next year there will even be quite a few more with incoming freshmen that we have got committed to USF,” said Petersen on the pipeline. “It is just one of those areas I like recruiting.”