Sievert-led Bulldogs seek top 15 finish at national championships
SEWARD, Neb. – After finishing a disappointing third at the conference meet on Nov. 9, the 19th-ranked Concordia men’s cross country team enters the national championship meet with something to prove. The nationally-respected Bulldogs will perform at the NAIA cross country championships for the 12th time in 13 seasons when the race gets started at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan.
“I don’t think our ranking is an indicator of how great our team is,” said Concordia’s top runner, Ben Sievert. “I think if we can come together and click we shouldn’t have a problem being top 15.”
With the temperature expected to hover around 30 degrees at race time in Lawrence, 22nd-year head coach Kregg Einspahr’s bunch could hold an advantage over competitors used to running in much warmer weather. Even more importantly, Concordia will be running on a familiar course that it competed on back on Oct. 12 at the NAIA National Preview Meet.
“It’s a course somewhat like ours, somewhat like Pioneer Park (in Lincoln),” Einspahr said. “There are some wide-open grassy areas and some short, steep hills and some trails. Those are components that we have on our course. This is an outstanding course. It’s very well-designed. It’s very challenging as a course but we ran well earlier in the season on the same course. I think it’s a big advantage to have run on the course already once.”
Concordia left for Lawrence at around 8 a.m. on Thursday. The Bulldogs plan to take a light run on the course Thursday and then jog the race route again on Friday. Sievert says they will get to bed by 10 p.m. on Friday and then wake up about 7 a.m. on Saturday prior to going through their routine of a 10-minute run, breakfast at the hotel and stretching before the gun goes off.
As much as they may try to approach the race just like any other, Sievert says there are aspects that just feel different the morning of a national championship race.
“Going into it the morning of (the race) there’s always this sense of nervousness around the team and everyone,” Sievert said. “The hotels have multiple teams staying there and it’s just really quiet at the continental breakfast. Guys are a lot more focused going in. Once you get to the course it feels just like a normal meet.”
Sievert heads a list of six Concordia returners who also ran at last year’s national championships in Vancouver, Wash. As a group, the Bulldogs placed 21st with Sievert’s 51st-place individual finish in a time of 25:38 pacing the team at the 2012 event.
Einspahr says his squad will run its top seven GPAC finishers this Saturday. That means Sievert will be joined at Rim Rock Farm by senior Hayden Hohnholt, sophomore Jordan Potrzeba, senior Beau Billings, freshman Chris Shelton, junior Charlie Bloomfield and junior Josh Allwardt. The Bulldogs will also have some alternates on hand should they need a fill in.
Since the GPAC championships concluded, preparation has been more about getting ready mentally than physically. At this stage of the season, the Bulldogs log fewer miles in an effort to stay fresh.
“Our mileage has toned down a lot,” Sievert said. “Now is kind of the taper portion of our season. We’ve probably dropped almost 30 miles a week. When we were in preseason and midseason we were hitting about 70 miles every week. I think last week we only hit about 45.
“About two weeks before, these workouts aren’t really going to help us a lot or increase our speed too much. It’s just going to keep our legs under us from here on out and keep us fresh.”
Added Einspahr prior to Tuesday afternoon’s practice, “We’re trying to get refocused a little bit yet this week. I don’t think we’re quite altogether in terms of our focus yet. We’ll get there.”
Sievert, native of Frankenmuth, Mich., does not appear to have any trouble honing his focus in on the ultimate prize. The three-time all-conference place finisher believes he’s ready to take a big step forward.
“I would really like to be top 30 for All-American this year,” Sievert said. “Looking at it I think if I just run well and keep my focus on the things that matter it’s a good possibility. I kind of changed my mindset a lot this year. I used to just be running for the win and put so much pressure on myself. Now I’ve refocused and realize that I’m running more for God and not as much on myself. That really helps me relax.”
Einspahr thinks both Sievert and Hohnholt and can push for All-America finishes. He also has high hopes for the rest of his team at Saturday’s national championships.
“We’d like to have seven guys in the top 100,” Einspahr said. “Hopefully we’ll get a couple in the top 40 and I think Ben and Hayden have a chance to compete for All-America honors and finish in the top 30. Ben in particular has been running well all season. He’s been real consistent in big meets. This is a big meet and he’s competed really well in that kind of competition.”
21 November 2013
2013 NAIA Cross Country National Championships
Saturday, 10:30 a.m. - Rim Rock Farm, Lawrence, Kan.