SEWARD, Neb. – The week of the GPAC championships has arrived for first-year head coach Matt Beisel and his Concordia University cross country programs. Currently ranked sixth on both sides in the official GPAC ratings, the Bulldogs believe they’re ready to peak at the right time. The 2016 GPAC Cross Country Championships will get started with the women’s 5K race at 10:45 a.m. at Elks Golf Club in Hastings, Neb. The men’s 8K race will follow at 11:30 a.m.
Both teams last competed at the Seminole Valley Stampeded held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Oct. 22.
“I feel very confident about both the men’s and the women’s teams being ready to run their very best,” Beisel said. “I inherited these kids and I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of kids. They have worked their tails off and done all of the things they’re supposed to. We have come through the season with probably the highest volume and intensity training that any of them have done, but we did it carefully.
“Fitness-wise they’re in the best shape of their lives. Now it’s just a matter of confidence to put themselves out there, take some risks and run like they’re capable.”
Among the 27 total Bulldogs to compete throughout the 2016 cross country season, 10 (seven men, three women) have prior experience at the GPAC championships. Most accomplished among them is junior Emily Sievert, who placed 11th at the 2015 conference meet, allowing her to earn all-GPAC honors and a trip to nationals as an individual qualifier. On the men’s side, Chris Shelton’s 27th-place 2015 GPAC finish ranks best among the returners. However, Patrick Wortmann has made some of the largest strides. His season best of 26:19 is tops on the team.
Concordia cross country developed a strong tradition as a conference power during previous head coach Kregg Einspahr’s 24-year tenure. During that time, the men’s and women’s cross country programs claimed a combined nine GPAC/Nebraska-Iowa Athletic Conference championships. The most recent conference championship for the men occurred in 2012. The women last won the GPAC title in 2005.
In this year’s race, the favorites for the title are No. 16 Northwestern on the men’s side and No. 19 Dordt on the women’s side. Both Bulldog teams entered the year hopeful of top three conference finishes. They will have to be at their best to make that happen.
“The big question is going to be: can our athletes have their best day and will our best be better than the teams we’re competing against?” That’s the big question,” Biesel said. “It’s always exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.”
Biesel believes roughly five of his runners have the potential to earn individual berths to nationals. Based on 2016 season bests, the men’s clear top three has been Wortmann, Thomas Taylor and Kohlton Gabehart. On the flip side, Sievert and Taylor Grove have separated themselves among Concordia female competitors.
Concordia is familiar with the Elks Golf Club course having run it at the Bronco Stampede back on Sept. 17. Due to the operation of the golf course, runners will not be able to run at Elks the night prior to the GPAC championships. This could be a bonus for Concordia, which already knows the course.
“We’re familiar with the course,” Biesel said. “(The Bronco Stampede) was a race where they ran really well. I think that will give them confidence going in. Mentally we should be more prepared so it’s less important for us to get on the course the night before.”
A theme talked about by Biesel and his teams is “trust in God above all else.” Biesel believes a trust in God and in the training his athletes have put in will make a difference on Saturday. Should any Bulldog teams or individuals qualify, they would earn trips to the NAIA Cross Country National Championships at North Farm Course in Elsah, Ill, on Saturday, Nov. 19.
Patrick Wortmann – season best: 26:19 | 2015 GPAC finish: 27:51 (45th)
Thomas Taylor – season best: 26:50 | 2015 GPAC finish: 27:30 (32nd)
Kohlton Gabehart – season best: 26:51 | 2015 GPAC finish: 28:00 (50th)
Chris Shelton – season best: 27:25 | 2015 GPAC finish: 27:13 (27th)
Evan Asche – season best: 27:36 | 2015 GPAC finish: 28:13 (55th)
Cameron Moes – season best: 27:37 | 2015 GPAC finish: 27:29 (31st)
Josiah McAllister – season best: 27:41
Samuel Ferguson – season best: 30:37
Nathan Matters – season best: 30:46
Robbie Peterson – season best: 30:53
Chris Warneke – season best: 32:57
Christian Egger – season best: 32:35 | 2015 GPAC finish: 31:05 (89th)
Isaac Golke – season best: 34:26
John Vecera – season best: 34:33
Emily Sievert – season best: 18:32 | 2015 GPAC finish: 19:01 (11th)
Taylor Grove – season best: 18:54 | 2015 GPAC finish: 20:03 (40th)
Shelbi Hackbart – season best: 19:32
Marti Vlasin – season best: 19:55
Jacy Johnston – season best: 19:59 | 2015 GPAC finish: 21:02.93 (63rd)
Abby Protzman – season best: 20:03
Rebekah Hinrichs – season best: 20:08
Erin Lindeman – season best: 21:20
Miranda Rathjen – season best: 21:30
Emily Writebol – season best: 21:48
Emily Wetzel – season best: 22:33
Paige Borcherding – season best: 22:48
Liliana Barrientos – season best: 25:05