ORANGE CITY, Iowa – The Concordia Cross Country programs entered the 2021 GPAC Championships with hopes of sewing up at least one team bid to the national meet. When the dust settled, the final placements fell below expectations with the Bulldogs finishing fourth on the men’s side and fifth on the women’s side. Northwestern served as the host for action at Landsmeer Golf Course in Orange City, Iowa, on Saturday (Nov. 6). On the plus side, Head Coach Matt Beisel’s squads have unofficially qualified three individuals for nationals.
The women’s program carried an NAIA national ranking of 21st into the meet and had won the GPAC title as recently as 2019. Meanwhile, the fourth-place claim ranks as high as any GPAC finish for the men since coming in at No. 3 in 2013.
Thanks to top-15 conference individual finishes, Rylee Haecker, Calvin Rohde and Camden Sesna each earned all-conference honors on Saturday.
The Concordia men finished with 122 points and placed fourth behind Dordt (15), Doane (71) and Northwestern (85). For the fifth meet in a row this season, the Bulldogs were paced by the Kearney, Neb., native Sesna. He placed seventh in the conference with an 8k time of 26:34.08.
Said Beisel, “The guys had an overall very good team race. We were really hoping for top three, but I also knew it was going to take everything we had. We ended up coming up a little short. Fourth place is way better than last year. We wanted top three, but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. We really ran well.”
Sesna and Rohde both placed inside the top 10 out of 90 conference runners. Rohde clocked in at 26:58.46 and finished 10th. Both standouts are All-GPAC runners for the first time in their careers and will be headed to nationals. Not since Ben Sievert in 2014 had the men’s program sent competitors to the NAIA meet.
“That was extremely satisfying and I’m so happy for Camden and Calvin,” Beisel said. “That was huge and it’s exciting to think about traveling to a great meet with them out in Washington.”
The next three Bulldogs to factor into the team’s point total were Sam Plante (28:44.57; 34th), Jack Ellis (29:05.22; 40th) and Thomas Gorline (29:07.42; 42nd). The team’s final four across the finish line were Ethan Pankow (29:23.50; 50th), Nathan Pennekamp (29:32.31; 52nd), Charlie Hayden (29:33.04; 54th) and Micah Willweber (29:51.29; 57th).
Highlights from this season included a first-place finish at the Morningside Invite and a second-place claim at the Briar Cliff Invite.
Considering the women’s team was ranked first or second in the GPAC all fall, the result on Saturday was hard to swallow. The Bulldogs accumulated 110 points at the conference meet, putting them behind Dordt (54), Hastings (77), Morningside (79) and Doane (105). It wasn’t the ending Concordia had trained for, but there were many thrilling moments. The Bulldogs rose as high as No. 11 in the NAIA coaches’ poll.
Said Beisel, “They ran their hearts out. They gave it everything they had, and they were tough mentally. We felt mentally and physically ready. I know they’ve done everything they’re supposed to so I absolutely have to look at the way we progressed our training. Their best races were in late September and early October, which tells me we probably peaked too early. I’ve had some really good talks with the ladies already. We’re going to figure this out and get it right next time. We have the ability to be a top-two team right now. I was very impressed with the other conference schools and what they did today.”
Haecker has been the team’s top runner for three-straight meets. An All-American in track, the native of Davenport, Neb., placed seventh in the GPAC with a 5k time of 19:19.69 while earning All-GPAC cross country accolades for the first time in her career. She was roughly 34 seconds off the first-place finisher.
“Rylee Haecker ran her heart out for her team,” Besiel said. “She’s a great leader on the team. Watching her compete at nationals is going to be a blast.”
Next in line, Keri Bauer was 10 spots out of all-conference territory with her 25th-place finish in a time of 20:18.19. The next four Bulldogs were tightly grouped with each one placing in the range of 27th through 31st: Grace Reiman (20:24.25), Rhaya Kaschinske (20:28.15), Kylahn Heritage (20:28.23) and Amie Martin (20:30.77). The team’s efforts were rounded out by Kaia Richmond (20:52.46; 38th), Abi DeLoach (21:01.36; 40th), Courtney Wright (21:18.47; 44th) and Katelyn Nix (22:11.16; 60th). Reiman was the team’s top runner at this season’s first two meets.
Concordia soared in the rankings early in the season when it got the best of Dordt at the Augustana Twilight. The Bulldogs were champions of the Morningside Invite and placed second at the Mount Marty Invite.
NAIA Meet: The 2021 NAIA Cross Country National Championships will be held in Vancouver, Wash., on Nov. 19. Official national qualifiers will be announced by the NAIA next week. No matter what happened at the conference meet, Beisel remains prideful in the student-athletes he coaches.
Said Beisel, “I truly believe God has blessed our team in so many ways. The biggest thing I find value in is the depth of the relationships between our athletes. I think it’s going to pay off in the long run. We didn’t get what we wanted today, but I believe God has a plan bigger than us.”