SIOUX CENTER, Iowa – Senior Emily Deschaine has positioned herself for a possible spot in the NAIA national championships for the third year in a row. A second-straight top-10 GPAC finish for the Frankenmuth, Mich., native highlighted the performances of the Concordia University cross country squads at Saturday’s (Nov. 4) GPAC championship meet held in Sioux Center, Iowa. From a team perspective, Concordia placed fifth on the women’s side and sixth on the men’s side.
Head coach Matt Beisel’s squads entered the conference meet ranked fifth on both sides. Beisel was pleased with how his programs made positive steps during his second season guiding Bulldog cross country. Twelve runners clocked personal bests on Saturday.
“It was an all-around phenomenal day,” Beisel said. “I’m never going to be satisfied unless we’re winning conference. That’s the bottom line, but it doesn’t happen overnight. You look at the effort of each individual – the kids ran their hearts out. I’m so proud of everyone one of our kids. I think they know they did a great job.”
This was the breakthrough Deschaine had been striving for since placing ninth at the GPAC championships as a junior. She saved her best 2017 performance for the most important race of the season, navigating the 5k course on the Dordt College campus in a season best time of 18:32.60. Her sixth-place conference finish was a career best. Deschaine made a late push to surpass a group of runners before the finish line. The hope is that will be good enough for a bid to nationals.
“She’s running very, very well, which we knew she could do all along,” Beisel said. “She told me the last couple races that she has been running her heart out. It just hadn’t come together. Today was the day it had to come together – and it did.”
Deschaine wasn’t the only Bulldog female to leg out a season best. Freshman Alyssa Fye set a new personal standard with a time of 19:14.74, placing her 18th overall. The rest of the women’s top five included sophomore Rebekah Hinrichs (19:39.13; 29th) and freshmen Alyssa Bierwagen (20:16.57; 40th) and Everett Elder (20:24.39; 47th).
The men’s team was led by junior Thomas Taylor, who also hoped to give himself a shot at reaching the national championships. He ended up in 18th place after crossing the finish line in 26:19.04 on the 8k course. He moved up from a 29th-place conference finish last year as a sophomore.
“Thomas ran the race of his life,” Beisel said. “He came very close to breaking his season goal of 26 minutes. On the day we needed it the most, he led our way. It wasn’t good enough to get in (to nationals), but I really want to commend him. It was a phenomenal race on his part.”
Next in line was senior Kohlton Gabehart, who finished his collegiate cross country career with his second best ever time of 27:00.65 (32nd place). The team’s top five was rounded out by junior Evan Asche (27:06.78; 34th), freshman Christian Van Cleave (27:14.27; 38th) and senior Pat Wortmann (27:39.58; 49th). Van Cleave's time represented a personal best by more than a minute.
All teams enter 10 runners into the conference championship meet. Of the 20 combined men’s and women’s Bulldog runners at the meet, only three were seniors. Beisel has lofty aspirations for what the coming years will bring for the program.
Deschaine hopes to be headed to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Wash., for the 2017 NAIA Cross Country National Championships. The women’s race will take place at 1:30 p.m. CST on Saturday, Nov. 18. At last year’s championship meet in Elsah, Ill., Deschaine clocked a time of 19:28.88 and finished 195th out of 334 runners.