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Cross country programs enter 2012 with usual lofty aims

By on Sep. 13, 2012 in Cross Country

Cross country programs enter 2012 with usual lofty aims

Men at a glance:
2011 Finishes: third place in GPAC; missed national championships for first time in 11 years
Head Coach: Kregg Einspahr (21st season; three conference titles; 13 national championships appearances)
Key Returners: Beau Billings, Charlie Bloomfield, Hayden Hohnholt, Colin Morrissey, Creighton Pearse, Adam Prahlow, Ben Sievert
Key Loss: Matt Trampe
2011 GPAC All-Conference (*denotes returnee): *Ben Sievert

Women at a glance:
2011 Finishes: second place in GPAC; 17th at national championships
Head Coach: Kregg Einspahr (21st season; five conference titles; 17 national championships appearances)
Key Returners: Shelby Hohnholt, Sarah Kortze, Christina Roach, Jena Schwalenberg, Renee Williams
Key Losses: Matha Meineke, Anna Meyer
2011 GPAC All-Conference (*denotes returnee): *Sarah Kortze (also earned All-America status), *Jena Schwalenberg

While head coach Kregg Einspahr’s 2011 men’s cross country squad fell short of the NAIA National Championships for the first time in 11 years, the women raced to a 17th place finish at the national championships last season to continue an incredible run of success. In 20 years as Bulldog head coach, Einspahr has guided his teams to 30 combined championships appearances and has yet to see a year in which both of his programs fail to qualify for nationals.

In other words, high expectations greet Concordia cross country every September.

“The expectation every year is to compete for a top-two spot in the conference and get to the national championships,” Einspahr said.

The women, currently ranked No. 9 in the coaches’ poll, will look to return to the national championships in 2012 and make it 18 trips in 19 seasons. They have also finished second in the GPAC five of the past six years after back-to-back conference titles in 2004 and 2005. Led by 2011 NAIA All-American Sarah Kortze, the Bulldogs have a strong cast of returnees.

Kortze finished 13th at the 2011 national championships with a time of 18:03. Fellow returning senior Jena Schwalenberg came in next for Concordia, recording a 102nd-place finish after clocking in at 19:29. The veteran duo will be counted upon to lead a squad that may turn to freshmen like highly-touted recruit Michaela Curran to fill voids left by the graduation of Matha Meineke and Anna Meyer.

“With the women, it’s just a matter of how our younger runners develop,” Einspahr said. “That’s a big question mark. We have some gals running cross country this year that might be able to run in our top five or top seven and could add to our depth. They have good foot speed but they’ve never run cross country before, so we’ll see how that works out.”

The remaining list of key holdovers includes senior Christina Roach and sophomores Renee Williams and Shelby Hohnholt. All three hold personal top times of 19:30 in the 5K, while Hansen and Williams both competed at the 2011 national championships.

The men, tabbed No. 18 in the latest coaches’ poll, come into 2012 determined to get back to Vancouver, Wash., the location of the national championships since 2009. For a program that finished as the national runner up in 2009, last year’s absence from the national scene was a letdown.

Although top runner Colin Morrissey, 2010 GPAC runner up, will miss the team’s first couple of races this season, the senior figures to make a big impact upon his return. He’ll be joined by sophomore Ben Sievert, who had an outstanding freshman year that included a fourth-place finish at the 2011 conference championships. Einspahr described the pair, which boasts personal bests of 14:50 and 15:10, respectively, as “great frontrunners.”

Morrissey’s health, which became an issue late in 2011, is a key to the Bulldogs’ pursuit of another top GPAC finish and berth in the national championships. The performances of several other returnees will be an additional important factor. Those returners include juniors Hayden Hohnholt, Beau Billings and Adam Prahlow and sophomores Charlie Bloomfield and Creighton Pearse. In total, eight of the team’s top-nine runners are back in 2012.

With Kortze and Morrissey leading the pack for their respective squads, Concordia cross country has plenty of star power once again.

“They’re very hard workers,” Einspahr said. “They both have good talent, but I think they are very intelligent individuals and they train hard. For both of them it’s been a matter of trying to develop their talent to the fullest and at the same time, trying to be intelligent and stay healthy at the same time, which is kind of a fine line to ride sometimes. They each have worked hard to become very good. It’s more of an art than a science.”

So how does the GPAC race look heading into 2012?

“I think the women’s conference race is going to be very tough,” Einspahr said. “I think there will be four or five teams that can win the conference championship. Some teams will be much improved over last year. On the men’s side, I’m not quite sure what to expect yet as far as how the conference is going to stack up. I think both teams can compete for the conference championship.

“I would expect both teams to at least start the season considered in the top couple teams in the conference.”

Both the men and women begin their seasons on Saturday when they compete at the Greeno Invite in Lincoln, Neb. The event will get started at 10 a.m.