PREVIEW: Cross country readies for GPAC championships

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 4, 2015 in Cross Country

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University cross country programs have reached championship season. For the first time since 2007, Doane College will serve as the host when the 2015 GPAC Cross Country Championships get underway at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday.

Date: Saturday, Nov. 7
Time: women at 10:45 a.m. | men at 11:30 a.m.
Host: Doane College
Location: Doane campus
1014 Boswell Ave, Crete, NE 68333
Course description: mostly grass with occasional wood chipped trails

At last year’s GPAC championships hosted by Dakota Wesleyan, the Concordia women placed fourth and the men fifth. In Einspahr’s first 23 seasons, he’s led the cross country programs to nine combined GPAC/NIAC team titles. His men’s and women’s teams have also totaled 18 combined runner-up conference finishes during that time. In addition, the last 23 years of Bulldog cross country have yielded 16 individual conference champions (10 men, six women).

This year’s race at the top could prove to be as competitive as ever at the front of the pack.

“I don’t think there’s nearly the clear-cut favorite this year as in other years,” Einspahr said. “In fact, I don’t think there’s a clear-cut top three this year. I think both for men and women it goes six deep with very comparable teams.

“If we run lights out there’s the possibility we could compete for the conference championship. It would be a difficult task, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. I’ve seen things like that happen in cross country. It just depends who goes out there and competes the best.”

Neither Bulldog squad is favored to capture a conference title this weekend, although both are listed among “others receiving votes” in the national polls. The Concordia women, who have garnered six top-25 mentions in 2015, have their sights set on leapfrogging 19th-ranked Doane and 23rd-ranked Morningside for a top-two GPAC finish.

The Bulldog women return each of their top four and nine of their top 10 runners from the 2014 GPAC championships. That group includes all-conference performer Kim Wood, who will be appearing at the conference race for the final time in her career. The senior from Greeley, Neb., has turned in GPAC finishes of 12th (2014), 40th (2013) and 29th (2012) during her collegiate career.

Wood and sophomores Emily Sievert and Jordyn Sturms give the Bulldogs a legitimate shot at putting three runners in all-conference territory.

“All three of them have been running right next to each other,” Einspahr said. “They all have a chance to be in the top 15 of the conference.”

Meanwhile, the Concordia men picked up votes in the national poll last week after a solid performance at the Mount Marty Invite that closed the regular season on Oct. 24. Senior Jordan Potrzeba ran a terrific 26:07 8K race, placing behind only 2014 top-three GPAC finishers Mark Abrams (Morningside) and Danny Aldaba (Midland), among conference competitors. Potrzeba, fellow senior Taylor Mueller and freshman Thomas Taylor each placed inside the top 30 out of 132 runners at Mount Marty.

“Jordan Potrzeba has emerged as a frontrunner recently and has been running very well and practicing very well,” Einspahr said. “He’s healthy. He’s done a real nice job given that he’s also student teaching in Lincoln. That’s not an easy task to undertake.”

The Concordia men will be chasing GPAC favorites in 12th-ranked Morningside and 24th-ranked Northwestern. At its most recent meet, the gap between Concordia and the teams ranked highest in the GPAC began to shrink.

“Our men had by far their best race of the season,” Einspahr said. “I think they’re getting some confidence. Some of our younger runners are adjusted to the five-mile distance. They have come along real steadily and we’re healthy.”

Both Bulldog teams had an opportunity to run the Doane course during practice on Tuesday afternoon. Einspahr says the course was dry, but in great shape. Though not historically conducive to fast times, it’s not an overwhelmingly challenging trek. Einspahr says the “turn and go” nature of the layout should suit his squads just fine despite their lack of experience running at Doane.

“I think for some of our runners it’s a good course for them because they have real good foot speed,” Einspahr said. “They can slow down and then pick it up, slow down and pick it up. They’re not necessarily rhythm runners, but they’re strong runners. It suits some of our runners fairly well.”

Concordia has sent at least one team to the national championships in 21 of the past 22 years. Among current Bulldogs, Potrzeba and junior Chris Shelton have experience running on the national stage. The 60th annual NAIA Cross Country National Championships will take place on Nov. 21 in Charlotte, N.C., at McAlpine Creek Park. The 2015 event is being hosted by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

Doane will provide a live stream of Saturday’s awards ceremony following both races. The stream can be viewed HERE.

Concordia conference titles under Einspahr
M – 2012 | 2009 | 2004 | 1997
W – 2005 | 2004 | 2002 | 1999 | 1995 

Official 2015 GPAC men’s ratings
*National rank in parentheses
1. Morningside (12)
2. Northwestern (24)
3. Dordt (RV)
4. Concordia (RV)
5. Midland
6. Doane
7. Briar Cliff
8. Mount Marty
9. Hastings
10. Dakota Wesleyan
--Nebraska Wesleyan not rated due to NCAA DIII affiliation

Official 2015 GPAC women’s ratings
*National rank in parentheses
1. Dordt (10)
2. Doane (19)
3. Morningside (23)
4. Concordia (RV)
5. Hastings (RV)
6. Mount Marty
7. Midland
8. Northwestern
9. Dakota Wesleyan
10. College of Saint Mary
11. Briar Cliff
--Nebraska Wesleyan not rated due to NCAA DIII affiliation

2014 GPAC Championships results

*Returners in bold

–99 total runners
4. Ben Sievert (25:17.69)
22. Jordan Potrzeba (26:19.60)
38. Taylor Mueller (26:40.59)
41. Chris Shelton (26:48.50)
42. Josh Allwardt (26:49.34)
49. Andrew Malan (27:09.56)
60. Charlie Bloomfield (27:32.89)
65. Matthias Wollberg (27:51.77)
70. Kohlton Gabehart (28:07.47)
74. Patrick Wortmann (28:17.53)

–94 total runners
12. Kim Wood (18:38.60)
18. Megan Burma (18:57.56)
23. Emily Sievert (19:05.97)
24. Jordyn Sturms (19:14.62)
41. Erika Schroeder (19:46.46)
45. Ashley Canfield (19:54.20)
49. Haley Harpham (20:02.77)
52. Lauren Wilcox (20:06.26)
56. Beth Rasmussen (20:22.58)
63. Renee Williams (20:38.70) 

2015 GPAC runners of the week
Sept. 9 – Danny Aldaba, Midland
Sept. 16 – Hans Epp, Northwestern
Sept. 23 – Danny Aldaba, Midland
Sept. 30 – Mark Abrams, Morningside
Oct. 7 – Jordan Wheeler, Nebraska Wesleyan
Oct. 14 – Danny Aldaba, Midland
Oct. 21 – Jordan Wheeler, Nebraska Wesleyan
Oct. 28 – Danny Aldaba, Midland

Sept. 9 – Marissa DeWispelare, Doane
Sept. 16 – Marissa DeWispelare, Doane
Sept. 23 – Janelle Bethea, Hastings
Sept. 30 – Marissa DeWispelare, Doane
Oct. 7 – No nominees
Oct. 14 – Kayla Byl, Dordt
Oct. 21 – Jamie Larson, Nebraska Wesleyan
Oct. 28 – Marissa DeWispelare, Doane