Hansen, Lopers compete today at Central Regional in Joplin, Missouri
KEARNEY – Corbin Hansen doesn’t run cross country because he loves the sport.
He’s not out there logging mile after mile, battling through injuries, because it brings him joy.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney senior and NCAA Division II All-American is motivated by other factors.
“He doesn’t love coming in every day and the grind of training, but he wants to be good,” said Brady Bonsall, head coach of the UNK cross country teams. “And wanting to be good is a lot more important than liking what you do, quite honestly.”
Hansen runs with a chip on his shoulder and a will to win that Bonsall doesn’t see in every athlete.
“The biggest thing for Corbin is he’s a great competitor,” Bonsall said. “He competes at a really high level.”
And he always has something to prove.
Hansen grew up in Deweese, a small town about 40 miles southeast of Hastings with fewer than 100 residents.
He participated in three sports at Sandy Creek High School, but cross country wasn’t one of them.
“In high school, I didn’t run more than 20 miles a week,” said Hansen, who qualified for the Class C state track meet a total of four times in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs. He never finished better than 10th place.
“I had a lot of untapped potential,” he said. “I just didn’t get the same training in distance running as other people.”
He also wasn’t getting any attention from college coaches.
“Literally no one called the guy,” Bonsall said. “It wasn’t just that I wasn’t letting him on the team, no one called the guy.”
An elementary education major, Hansen planned to enroll at UNK, so he reached out to Bonsall to see if there was room for him on the men’s cross country team.
The UNK coach gave him some times to hit – 4 minutes, 30 seconds in the mile and 10 minutes in the 2-mile – but Hansen wasn’t ready to reach those marks.
“He called me multiple times and I said no multiple times, and finally, in a weak moment, I let him on the team,” Bonsall said.
Hansen joined the Lopers in summer 2016, and immediately started a training regimen that had him running 40-50 miles a week.
“I hated it,” he said. “I absolutely hated it. I almost quit within the first week because my body was so sore.”
“But I’m glad I stuck with it, and now here I am, one of the best guys on the team.”
Bonsall knew he had a diamond in the rough by the end of summer workouts.
“I’m not going to regret giving this guy a shot,” he thought to himself.
Hansen ran in all five meets for the Lopers as a freshman, scoring in three, and he posted the team’s fourth-best time at the NCAA Central Regional. As a sophomore, he earned honorable mention all-conference honors by finishing 16th at the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) Championships and was named an all-region performer after he finished 15th among 181 runners at the NCAA Central Regional hosted by Kearney Country Club.
The former walk-on now receiving an athletic scholarship was even better as a junior. He led the Lopers at every meet, recording five top-10 finishes, and was fourth at the MIAA Championships with a time of 25:32.1 to claim first team all-conference honors. His seventh-place finish at the Central Regional in Joplin, Missouri, earned him another all-region recognition and an at-large spot in the NCAA Division II Championships.
Hansen was battling an injury heading into the 2018 NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh, but managed to complete the 10K course in 33:14.6 to finish 31st. The top-40 performance earned him All-American honors, something only eight other UNK men’s cross country runners have accomplished at the Division II level.
“If you looked at what he had done training-wise over the previous four weeks, there was no reason to think he could have been an All-American that day,” Bonsall said, referencing the injury Hansen had to overcome. “But the guy just competes really well.”
An MIAA Academic Honor Roll selection the past four years, Hansen says it’s his mental toughness that sets him apart.
“I don’t like giving up. I don’t like quitting in the middle of a race,” he said. “Even if I’m hurt, I’m going to grind through it.”
“Knowing I beat a majority of the best distance runners in the nation, with a hurt hip, makes me feel pretty good about myself,” he added.
Hansen, who missed qualifying for the Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships by two-tenths of a second in the steeplechase, was named a captain for this year’s UNK men’s cross country team along with Shane Burkey and TeJai Clausen.
For the second straight year, the senior has led the Lopers at every event, posting a pair of top-10 finishes and earning his second consecutive first team all-conference selection by taking sixth (24:41.6) at the MIAA Championships hosted Oct. 26 by the Tom Rutledge Cross Country Course in Joplin.
Hansen returned to that course Saturday for the Central Regional event, where he placed 11th with a time of 30:52.2 and qualified for the Division II Championships scheduled for Nov. 23 at the Arcade Creek Cross Country Course in Sacramento, California.
Although he still has that nagging injury, the three-time all-region performer refuses to let his teammates down.
“No matter the race, they know I’m going to give it my all,” he said.
Hansen, who continues to be motivated by the lack of interest from college coaches coming out of high school, credits Bonsall for his improvement over the past four years.
“He developed me into the person I am today,” Hansen said.
Bonsall, who believes his star runner could compete at the Division I level, isn’t surprised a small-town Nebraska athlete has the raw talent and work ethic to prove him and many other coaches wrong.
“You never know who that person is,” Bonsall said. “Sometimes you just get lucky.”