VANCOUVER, Wash. – Three runners represented Concordia University Cross Country on Friday (Nov. 19) at the 2021 NAIA Cross Country National Championships while making their first career appearances on this particular stage. Both Rylee Haecker and Camden Sesna placed inside the top 120 nationally while Calvin Rohde finished just outside the top 200 in action that took place at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Championship Course in Vancouver, Wash. The national field included more than 300 runners in both the men’s and women's races.
The journey to Vancouver marked the third time Head Coach Matt Beisel has traveled athletes to the historic location. The women’s program advanced to the national meet in 2019 and placed 12th in the NAIA. Meanwhile, the men’s program had representation at the national championships for the first time since 2014.
“The race today came with great conditions as far the weather goes,” Beisel said. “It’s a challenging course, which I love. The guys have to run four loops and a lot of hills. It got pretty muddy after the guys tore it up, so we ended up duct-taping Rylee’s shoes to her feet and put in half-inch spikes.
“The guys went out and followed the race plan and got out really strong. Camden and Calvin crossed the finish line and both felt like they could have done better, but they went out and gave it their best. There was definitely a depression of the times (based on the difficulty of the course). I was really proud of them, and I love the fact that they have high expectations.”
Friday’s race put the cap on a terrific season from start to finish for Sesna, a native of Kearney, Neb. He placed 116th out of 333 runners on the men’s side of the national meet. Sesna crossed the finish line in 26:54.7, not far off his 8k time of 26:34.08 turned in at the GPAC Championships. Rohde (Reed City, Mich.) finished roughly 45 seconds later in a time of 27:40.4, putting him in 209th place.
Haecker wound up as the lone women’s qualifier on a team that rose as high as No. 11 in the NAIA coaches’ poll earlier this season. Haecker paced the 5k Fort Vancouver historical course in 19:45.8 and placed 120th out of 340 competitors on the women’s side. Haecker had run 19:19.69 at the conference championships, where she placed seventh.
Said Beisel, “Rylee ran a great race and finished ahead of a lot of the conference competition. I asked her afterwards, ‘What was the highlight of your race today?’ She said, ‘All of it,’ with a big smile on her face. She gave it the best she could all the way through.”
Rylee Haecker – 120th (19:45.8 5k time)
Calvin Rohde – 209th (27:40.4 8k time)
Camden Sesna – 116th (26:54.7 8k time)
Added Beisel, “I think it was valuable experience. It was the largest race we’ve ran this season. It’s a whole different experience at nationals. Our athletes were already talking about what they need to do get strong enough, fast enough and mentally tough enough to compete for All-America awards (top 40 finishers), and hopefully with the rest of the team behind us. Camden, Calvin and Rylee are all strong leaders on our team.”
The distance runners will have a short break before revving back up for track. As of Friday, the first meet of the indoor track and field season was just three weeks away.