SEWARD, Neb. – Both Concordia cross country programs enter the season’s most significant meet planning on showing the progress that has been made over the past few seasons under head coach Matt Beisel. The Bulldogs last competed on Oct. 20 at the Seminole Valley Stampede where they went up against a host of NAIA schools appearing in the national polls. In the most recent official GPAC ratings, both Concordia teams were ranked fourth in the conference.
Up next is Saturday’s GPAC championship meet at North Bend Golf Course in North Bend, Neb. The event is set to get started at 10:45 a.m. CT with the women’s race. The men will follow at 11:30.
Beisel’s squads are coming off 2017 GPAC place finishes of fifth on the women’s side and sixth on the men’s side. The program’s most recent GPAC titles occurred in 2012 for the men and 2005 for the women.
“Our teams have really come together in a way that I haven’t seen before,” Beisel said. “They know they need each other. I think we’ve done things this season that we can be proud of. We’ve done some things that haven’t happened in years. Now we want to have our best performances on the day that it matters most. I believe in these guys and girls. I am convinced that they are capable of significantly improving their places in conference from what they’ve done the past two years. I think both teams have a shot at a top-three performance.”
The women’s team has been paced all season by senior Taylor Grove who has impressively bounced back after missing the 2017 cross country season due to injury. She placed 31st in the GPAC as a sophomore in 2016 and appears primed for a much higher finish on Saturday. Her 5k time of 18:27.18 at the Briar Cliff Invitational on Oct. 6 was an indication of what she’s capable of accomplishing at the conference championships. She projects to be in the mix for a top 10 finish.
“For me personally, GPAC my senior year feels really special as it’s the accumulation of four years of running at the collegiate level,” Grove said. “Having all the miles I've put in over the last four years pay off this weekend would be a special moment. I had the blessing of having great leaders and runners as teammates to look up to when I started here at Concordia. Having teammates like Kim (Wood) and Emily (Deschaine) who qualified for nationals showed me that that goal was possible. Our team this year has really been a blessing to me as they are all great individuals and we've been able to run so well. No matter how we run as team I know that it’s a special group of girls.”
Grove and company put together some of their best collective performances at the Briar Cliff Invite. Following that meet, the Bulldogs even received votes in the national poll. Nine of the 10 Concordia women who competed at the 2017 GPAC championships returned this fall. In other words, this current roster has more worthy candidates to fill the lineup that Beisel can even enter into the meet.
A top-three team finish may be possible for the women but even if that does not happen, Grove and others such as freshman Abi DeLoach and junior Rebekah Hinrichs should at least be in the running to punch their tickets to nationals as individuals. Sophomores Lydia Cook and Alyssa Fye joined the aforementioned threesome in the team’s top five at Concordia’s most recent outing.
Said Beisel, “Our women just need to run the way they’ve been running. They need to stick together as a group. We’ve been running in our top seven with about a minute separating each other. If we can keep that tight pack and improve and compete, we’re going to see ourselves in a good situation.”
On the flip side, the Bulldog men are also more experienced than one year ago with eight of their 10 2017 conference competitors back this season. That group has received a boost this fall from the additions of senior Josiah McAllister and freshman Wyatt Lehr. The hope is now that everything will come together and result in the best races of the season for the men’s team.
“We set the goal of being in the top three at conference at the beginning of the year, and that has remained our goal all season,” McAllister said. “It is going to take a great race from our entire team, but I believe it can happen. Based on how our practices have gone the past couple weeks, we are ready to compete.”
At the Seminole Valley Stampede in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Bulldogs had too large of a gap between their Nos. 3 and 4 runners. The key will be to close that gap and run as a pack this Saturday. Said McAllister, “The big focus for us going into Conference is pack running. If we want to succeed at Conference, we’re going to have to run together throughout the race and push one another. We have run races as individuals this year and they didn’t go well. But the races that we ran as a team we’ve had a lot more success at.”
The top returner in terms of last season’s GPAC championships for the men is senior Thomas Taylor, who placed 18th in the conference in 2017. Sophomores Jordan Lorenz, Christian Van Cleave, freshman Ethan Pankow and senior Evan Asche will also factor into how high Concordia finishes.
“With our men their biggest thing is to bring together the two pieces of our team – our top three and then our fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh runners,” Beisel said. “We have to narrow that gap between third and fourth and have everybody run the best they can run. If that happens we could see ourselves in a third place position. It would be a huge improvement over the last two years and a sign that we’re moving towards where we want to be.”
According to the official GPAC polls released on Oct. 22, the top four on the men’s side are Dordt, Doane, Northwestern and Concordia while the top four on the women’s side are Dordt, Northwestern, Hastings and Concordia.
The course in North Bend an unfamiliar one to the Bulldogs, but many conference teams will deal with the same circumstances. Weather conditions are expected to be cloudy and cool with light winds, which should be favorable for fast times.
Those who qualify will then get ready for the NAIA Cross Country National Championships at Seminole Valley Park in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Nov. 16.
Said Grove, “I think we have pretty high expectations of how we want to run at GPAC. We know we are all counting on each other to show up and run our best if we want to accomplish some of our team goals. For me, individually having been a top GPAC runner at all of our meets has really made me realize that the goal of going to nationals is possible. I was probably a bit more skeptical of that goal at the beginning of the season, but now it’s definitely something I want to be able to accomplish.”
*Runners in bold are on the current roster
Men – 6th
(out of 87 runners)
18. Thomas Taylor – 26:19.04
32. Kohlton Gabehart – 27:00.65
34. Evan Asche – 27:06.78
38. Christian Van Cleave – 27:14.27
49. Patrick Wortmann – 27:39.58
54. Jordan Lorenz – 28:00.32
64. Christian Watters – 28:32.51
70. Cody Williams – 28:48.33
71. Patrick Schneeberger – 29:02.07
76. JP Reynolds – 29:46.37
Women – 5th
(out of 100 runners)
6. Emily Deschaine – 18:32.60
18. Alyssa Fye – 19:14.74
29. Rebekah Hinrichs – 19:39.13
40. Alyssa Bierwagen – 20:16.57
47. Everett Elder – 20:24.39
50. Miranda Rathjen – 20:29.86
55. Sydney Clark – 20:41.99
60. Jacy Johnston – 20:56.42
62. Lydia Cook – 21:01.08
74. Abby Protzman – 21:41.08