Sesna powers Bulldog men to GPAC runner up claim; women place third

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 5, 2022 in Cross Country

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – By the completion of the 2022 GPAC Cross Country Championships, the Concordia Bulldogs hoped to lock in team bids to the national meet – or at least state compelling cases for at-large consideration. The Bulldogs missed out on the automatic bids, however, the men’s team held off Dakota Wesleyan and Doane in a tight race for second place while the 24th-ranked women landed in third place. Dordt emerged with championships on both sides when the dust settled on the competition at Parkhurst Campground in Jamestown, N.D.

Head Coach Matt Beisel’s men’s program claimed its highest conference finish since winning the GPAC title in 2012. Based on their individual finishes, Camden Sesna, Kylahn Freiberg and Julie McIntyre have each earned spots at the national meet (unofficially). Overall, it was a good day for Concordia Cross Country.

Said Beisel, “On both sides, every single guy and girl gave it everything they had. That was obvious from the intensity with which they ran. It’s been a fantastic season and whatever happened today was going to be icing on the cake. We got close to what we were hoping for … I believe we still have a shot to get an at-large bid (to nationals). The guys did what they had to do to potentially break into the top 25. On the women’s side, I feel like our women have a shot at an-large bid too.”

Men’s Breakdown

A two-time GPAC Runner of the Week this fall, senior Camden Sesna kept his career alive and helped pave the way for the team’s second place finish. Sesna emerged with his best ever GPAC placement of fifth. He navigated the 8k course in 25:46.15. With the Kearney, Neb., native leading the way, the Bulldogs (86 points) edged Dakota Wesleyan (87) and Doane (92) for second. Prior to this weekend, the best GPAC men’s finish under Beisel had been fourth (twice).

“This is something we’ve been working towards for six years and it’s so awesome to be able to accomplish that,” Beisel said. “Dakota Wesleyan kind of came out of the blue and almost caught us. Fortunately, Camden was able to pass a Dakota Wesleyan runner in the final straightaway and that was the difference, I think. It’s the first time we’ve been able to beat Doane (at the GPAC meet) since I’ve took over. Camden had a great race. Calvin didn’t quite feel his best today and had to drop back a little bit. Huge kudos to Jack Ellis, who ran out of his mind and wound up ahead of all but one Doane runner. We had a nice pack in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. They did what they had to do.”

Sesna was roughly 17 seconds off the individual GPAC champion from Dordt. As the team’s No. 2 Rohde gutted out a time of 26:21.70 and earned all-conference accolades for the second year in a row. Ellis cracked the top 20 (18th) in the field of 84 runners with his time of 26:45.49. The pack Beisel referred to in the team’s four through seven spots included Aaron Jendro (27:41.43), Jimmy Nguyen (27:46.29), Charlie Hayden (27:53.22) and Nathan Pennekamp (27:57.99).

In addition to defeating Dakota Wesleyan and Doane, the Bulldogs outran Northwestern (fifth), Mount Marty (sixth), Midland (seventh), Hastings (eighth), Morningside (ninth), Jamestown (10th) and Briar Cliff (11th).

Individual GPAC finishes
5. Camden Sesna – 25:46.15
14. Calvin Rohde – 26:21.70
18. Jack Ellis – 26:45.49
29. Aaron Jendro – 27:41.43
30. Jimmy Nguyen – 27:46.29
33. Charlie Hayden – 27:53.22
37. Nathan Pennekamp – 27:57.99
40. Trevor Kuncl – 28:06.57
45. Thomas Gorline – 28:25.25
46. Micah Willweber – 28:25.48

Women’s Breakdown

The hope was for a second-place finish, but the Bulldogs came up 11 points short of Hastings (64) in the team race. Dordt (33 points) took the team title behind individual champion Jessica Kampman. Concordia was led by three individuals who placed in all-conference territory in Kylahn Freiberg (eighth), Julie McIntyre (14th) and Rylee Haecker (15th). The team finish was an improvement from 2021 when the Bulldogs placed fifth in the conference.

“We all wanted second – we all wanted that automatic bid,” Beisel said. “Our focus was on Northwestern. We wanted to keep in front of them. Hastings has a way of putting things together at the GPAC Championships and did an incredible job. We accomplished one of our goals of beating Northwestern. Kylahn ran an outstanding race. She qualified individually for nationals. Rylee was a little sick during the week and wasn’t able to find the energy to be able to be up there with Kylahn. Rylee just missed going to nationals, but she’s been a great leader and captain this season. Overall, the times were not as fast as we expected – there were a lot of tight turns and one pretty big hill.

Both Freiberg and Haecker have earned All-GPAC awards for the second time in their careers. A 2021 national qualifier and five-time All-American in track, Haecker fought her way to the finish and was seven seconds behind McIntyre. A transfer from Trinity Christian College, McIntyre has enjoyed a phenomenal season as a Bulldog and finished the 5k in 19:33.86. McIntyre will join Freiberg at nationals in a couple of weeks. Freiberg owns national experience having run on that stage in 2019. The rest of Concordia’s top five at the conference meet included Hannah Beintema (19:50.75) and Rhaya Kaschinske (20:05.03).

As Beisel stated, Concordia beat out Northwestern and also outperformed the likes of Morningside (fifth), College of Saint Mary (sixth), Doane (seventh), Mount Marty (eighth), Midland (ninth), Jamestown (10th), Briar Cliff (11th) and Dakota Wesleyan (12th). The Bulldogs won the GPAC title as recently as 2019.

Individual GPAC finishes
8. Kylahn Freiberg – 19:11.51
14. Julie McIntyre – 19:33.86
15. Rylee Haecker – 19:40.36
18. Hannah Beintema – 19:50.75
20. Rhaya Kaschinske – 20:05.03
32. Amie Martin – 20:35.42
37. Keegan Beisel – 20:44.10
46. Faith Williamson – 21:08.85
51. Courtney Wright – 21:19.72
72. Jaiden Tweton – 22:20.96

NAIA National Championships

For those who qualify, the season will continue with a trip to Tallahassee, Fla., for the 2022 NAIA Cross Country National Championships on Nov. 18. Whether or not Concordia qualifies one and/or both teams, Beisel feels grateful for the progress he’s seen this fall – and for the time spent with his student-athletes.

Added Beisel, “We focused this week on giving this to God. Sometimes it’s hard when you don’t get everything you want, but there’s a reason for it. We’ve had an outstanding season.”