SEWARD, Neb. – The preparation of cross country teams across the nation all leads up to this weekend when the stakes will be as high as they have been all fall. Now in his second year leading the Bulldogs, head coach Matt Beisel believes that his squads led by Emily Deschaine on the women’s side and Thomas Taylor on the men’s side are hitting their stride just as the GPAC championships have arrived.
Saturday’s conference championship meet is set to get underway at 10:45 a.m. CT with the women’s 5K race to precede the men’s 8K competition. Both races will be held on the Dordt College campus.
“I have absolute confidence that we are ready to go this weekend. Our kids have been working hard for over 20 weeks. After a successful meet at Mount Marty, our kids are ready to go. These last few weeks we’ve moved into different type of workouts. We’re focusing in on making sure our athletes are rested while still keeping the intensity of our workouts up. Our athletes just want this weekend to be here, and I feel the same way.”
Based upon the most recent conference ratings released on Oct. 23, Concordia is expected to place fifth for both men and women. Those ratings are based upon results that have played out over four meets this fall for the Bulldogs. They last competed at the Mount Marty College Invite on Oct. 21 when the women placed third out of nine teams and the men claimed fifth out of 10 squads. A team national championships berth would likely require at least a top-three finish on Saturday.
That won’t be an easy task in a competitive conference, but the presence of Deschaine provides hope. The senior from Frankenmuth, Mich., is winding down what’s been a career worth celebrating. She’s already been two the cross country national championships, has been a track and field national qualifier and is a scholar-athlete. If anyone on this roster can make it to the 2017 national championships, it’s Deschaine.
Said Beisel, “Emily Deschaine has the best chance on the women’s side. She is running extremely well right now. She’s in great shape and has no injuries. It’s a matter of taking the last few weeks of sharpening work and making it happen, putting the mental piece and the physical piece together. I think she is ready and able for that.”
A year ago, Deschaine (maiden name Sievert) battled through a painful knee injury that forced her to walk with crutches. She still managed to place ninth in the conference and earn a bid to nationals.
“It’s definitely nice not to be on crutches right now,” Deschaine joked. “Hobbling through the halls isn’t exactly a confidence booster. I’ve had three months of training, plus summer and the races we’ve had this season. Our whole conference has had kind of an up-and-down season that don’t necessarily show the shape you’re in. Fitness-wise, I think we’re in really good shape and I feel really excited about this weekend.”
While Deschaine has been their leader all year, the Concordia women have also seen freshman Alyssa Fye emerge as their No. 2 runner. She’s part of a solid freshman group that also includes Alyssa Bierwagen and Sydney Clark. Said Biesel, “Alyssa Fye has done some great things already. She’s made huge progress. There’s a shot she could get to nationals. I wouldn’t be surprised if she did.”
Along with Deschaine, five other returners ran at the 2016 conference championships: Jacy Johnston, Rebekah Hinrichs, Erin Lindeman, Miranda Rathjen and Abby Protzman. The Bulldogs have been without the services of junior Taylor Grove this season. Grove was the team’s No. 3 runner at last year’s GPAC championships.
On the men’s side, Taylor, a junior from Papillion, Neb., paces a group of experienced runners at the top of the heap. Taylor, seniors Kohlton Gabehart and Pat Wortmann and junior Evan Asche could all make strong pushes for top-30 individual finishes. If Taylor is at his best, he could even wind up in the top 10 and punch his ticket to nationals.
“It’s very cool to be able to say that, that I could be in the top 10,” Taylor said. “It’s an accomplishment I’ve been working towards. I would have liked to have been there last year, but I wasn’t ready for it. Honestly, it’s not possible without the guys running alongside me. It’s all because of them.”
Beisel likes what he sees from Taylor, who appears primed to improve significantly upon his 29th-place GPAC finish in 2016.
“Thomas Taylor has been running with the top 10 in the conference all season,” Beisel said. “He needs to be there on that day. His intensity level and his focus have been extraordinary and I love the look in his eyes when I talk with him about his chances. There are no guarantees, but I wouldn’t rule out some of the other guys on the team. I’m going to go into it with hope and confidence and see what comes out.”
The hope is for several of the team’s freshmen to aid in the push for a climb up the GPAC ladder. Rookie Christian Van Cleave enjoyed a breakthrough at the Mount Marty Invite where he turned in a personal best of 28:12.42. There are a host of other freshmen ready to make an impact on the conference meet.
Nothing about Saturday’s conditions should come as any surprise to the Bulldogs, who ran on Dordt’s course on Sept. 9. They know the layout of the land. Said Taylor, “Knowing that we’ve run that course is really nice. You know where you need to push and where you need to maintain. We’re going to have to play it more safe than we did (at Mount Marty). I think this course gives us a little bit of an advantage.”
Chilly conditions this time of year are just something all GPAC runners have to get used to. Said Deschaine, “Everyone’s running in the same conditions. To me it doesn’t really matter what the weather is like. If anything, some inclement weather makes you a little bit more focused sometimes. Everyone’s running in those conditions so it’s time to see who’s tougher.”
Toughness is one trait Beisel would love to see in his runners on Saturday. He has also talked about the importance for each of them to put their trust in Christ as the GPAC championships beckon. In turn, Concordia should see its fortunes improve as compared to one year ago.
“My returning kids are stronger and faster than they’ve ever been,” Beisel said. “We saw that happening last fall. They all ran personal bests at the conference meet. They have put in a huge amount of work. Their intensity level has been really high. Now we see what happens. The depth on our team is much greater. In our top seven or eight, we have four returning guys and three returning girls. Depth-wise and as far as competitiveness, we are way ahead of last year. I wouldn't be surprised to see a top three finish for either of my teams on Saturday.”
MEN – 6th
(out of 89 runners)
28. Patrick Wortmann – 26:42.80
29. Thomas Taylor – 26:43.09
36. Kohlton Gabehart – 27:04.93
42. Evan Asche – 27:19.56
44. Chris Shelton – 27:20.89
50. Cameron Moes – 27:37.45
51. Josiah McAllister – 27:39.08
84. Sam Ferguson – 31:10.90
85. Robbie Peterson – 32:10.36
WOMEN – 6th
(out of 95 runners)
9. Emily Deschaine – 18:20.96
29. Shelbi Hackbart – 19:05.58
31. Taylor Grove – 19:07.69
44. Marti Vlasin – 19:50.07
49. Jacy Johnston – 20:01.87
50. Rebekah Hinrichs – 20:06.44
62. Erin Lindeman – 20:46.19
74. Miranda Rathjen – 21:18.16
76. Abby Protzman – 21:19.98
81. Emily Writebol – 21:36.10