Meet Preview: 2021 GPAC Cross Country Championships

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 2, 2021 in Cross Country

SEWARD, Neb. – It’s GPAC week for Concordia University Cross Country. The Bulldogs hope to put all the pieces together as they prepare for the conference championship meet set to take place at Landsmeer Golf Course in Orange City, Iowa, on Saturday morning. Northwestern serves as the host of the 2021 GPAC Championships. Head Coach Matt Beisel’s squads are looking to outperform their 2020 conference place finishes of fourth on the women’s side and sixth on the men’s side.

The Concordia women’s team will enter the meet ranked second in the GPAC and 21st in the latest NAIA coaches’ poll. Meanwhile, the men are ranked fifth in the conference.

“There’s a sense of confidence combined with a sense of nervousness,” Beisel said. “I think everyone wants it to happen yesterday. This week is always hard because we’re backing off (our training) and we have more time. It’s just a matter of what’s going to happen. I truly believe we’ve trained well and done the right things. Our athletes have high expectations for themselves. We have great potential to accomplish our goals – top three in the GPAC for the men and to win GPAC for the women. These are things that are in our wheelhouse. At the same time, you’re not defined by the type of runner you are.”

Meet Info – 2021 GPAC Cross Country Championships
Saturday, Nov. 6 | Women’s 5k – 10:45 a.m., Men’s 8k – 11:30 a.m.
Landsmeer GC | Orange City, Iowa
Results: Dakota Timing

The Bulldog women have appeared in the NAIA top 25 in each of the past four polls released this season. They rose as high as 11th before sliding back to No. 21 in the poll released on Oct. 28. A top-two conference finish on Saturday would likely earn Concordia a bid to the national meet for the second time in three seasons. Just two years ago, the Bulldogs celebrated a GPAC title when the conference meet was held in Sioux Center, Iowa. Concordia then went on to place 12th at the NAIA National Championships. Based on those finishes, the 2019 season marked the best for Bulldog Women’s Cross Country since the 2005 team placed sixth in the nation.

So far this season, the Concordia women have turned in place finishes of eighth out of 27 at the Augustana Twilight, first out of five at the Morningside Invite, fourth out of 11 at the Briar Cliff Invite and second out of 10 at the Mount Marty Invite. At the Augustana Twilight, the Bulldogs managed to beat out Dordt. The Defenders then defeated Concordia for first place at the Mount Marty Invite. On an individual level, Grace Reiman paced the Bulldogs at the first two meets while Rylee Haecker emerged as the team’s top runner at the third and fourth meets.

The Concordia men appeared to be on the verge of receiving votes in the national poll before finishing behind three GPAC opponents at the Mount Marty Invite on Oct. 23. In order to qualify for nationals as a team, the Bulldogs will need to run their best race of the season. The program last reached the national meet as a team in 2013 when Concordia placed 24th in the NAIA. The most recent men’s GPAC title occurred in 2012 under the direction of former head coach Kregg Einspahr, an NAIA Hall of Famer. The most recent individual Bulldog to qualify for nationals was Ben Sievert in 2014.

It's been an overall solid fall for the Concordia men, who have turned in meet placements of 12th out of 31 at the Augustana Twilight, first out of seven at the Morningside Invite, second out of 12 at the Briar Cliff Invite and fifth out of 10 at the Mount Marty Invite. The star of the show for the Bulldogs has been Camden Sesna, who ran an 8k personal best of 25:39.16 at the Morningside Invite on Sept. 17. Sesna has twice been named the GPAC Runner of the Week this season. The Kearney, Neb., native has a shot to earn a bid to nationals, even if the team falls short. Calvin Rohde and Sam Plante have frequently fallen next in line for the Bulldogs.

Says Sesna, “Right now it’s all about focusing on my placement at conference and how I can help my team the best. Talking to some of the Dordt guys, they said it’s a pretty hilly course (at Northwestern) … My main mindset is to stay in a position where I’m one of the top three or four individuals who qualify for nationals from the GPAC. I find that I run a lot better if I don’t put any stress on myself – just go up to the starting line and flow with the ability that God has given me. I have to trust my training.”

The following current Bulldogs have earned past All-GPAC cross country honors by placing inside the top 15 of the conference: Abi DeLoach (14th in 2018), Kylahn Heritage (2nd in 2019) and Wyatt Lehr (15th in 2019; 12th in 2018). After missing the first three meets of this season, Heritage returned for the Mount Marty Invite and ran a 5k time of 20:09.12. She may not currently be at the form she showed in 2019 when she was the GPAC runner up (18:30.48), but Heritage can still provide a boost this weekend.

National qualifiers will advance to compete at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships slated to take place in Vancouver, Wash., on Nov. 19. Qualifiers are scheduled to be announced on Monday, Nov. 8, along with the final NAIA coaches’ polls of the regular season.

“We’ve worked really hard for months and made sacrifices along the way,” Beisel said. “In the end, what defines a good season is everything that’s happened up until this point. There have been so many good things that have happened. Accomplishing our goals for conference and nationals is icing on the cake for an already successful season. I feel like God has blessed our team. The personal relationships have blossomed. I am optimistic we will accomplish our goals, but I also know that anything can happen. I’m putting my faith and trust in God.”

2021 Concordia GPAC Championship Roster

Jack Ellis
Thomas Gorline
Charlie Hayden
Ethan Pankow
Nathan Pennekamp
Sam Plante
Calvin Rohde
Camden Sesna
Jackson Smith
Micah Willweber
Alternate: Wyatt Lehr

Keri Bauer
Abi DeLoach
Rylee Haecker
Kylahn Heritage
Rhaya Kaschinske
Amie Martin
Katelyn Nix
Grace Reiman
Kaia Richmond
Courtney Wright
Alternate: Grace Oberg

Concordia Cross Country History

All-time team conference championships

Men (6): 1971, 1972, 1997, 2004, 2009, 2012

Women (6): 1995, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2019

All-time individual conference champions

Men (18)
Dan Cloeter (1970, 1971, 1972, 1973)
Dave Cloeter (1975)
Kregg Einspahr (1979, 1980, 1981)
Brandon Seifert (1997, 1998, 1999)
Andrew Walquist (2003, 2004)
Luka Thor (2006)
Zach Meineke (2008, 2009)
Dana Schmidt (2010)
Colin Morrissey (2012)

Women (7)
Sharon Holthaus (1980)
Amy Luft (1997)
Stacey Hain (1998)
Molly Engel (2002, 2003, 2004)
Sarah Kortze (2012)