Christian Zylstra – Staff Writer
The road to success is not always achieved through emphasis on winning. Sometimes success is achieved even before stepping on the course.
This was the case with the Dordt College Women’s Cross Country team. Ranked No. 2 in the 2014 NAIA Women’s Cross Country Coaches’ Top 25 Poll, Dordt is experiencing plenty of newfound recognition.
“It feels awesome,” said Kayla Byl, a junior on Dordt’s Women’s Cross Country team. “We work so hard and continue to push each other, so it feels great to have that kind of recognition.”
Dordt’s recent success on the running courses has propelled it to places unimagined, but national recognition is not the end goal.
That message is one shared not only by Byl, but also by the entire team.
“As a team, we try to not to focus on our rankings and just go out each day for practice, working hard and doing our best for the Lord,” said Abby De Vries, a senior on the Dordt Cross Country team. “If we continue to go out and do what we always do, the results are going to happen.”
In the first meet of the season, Dordt lived up to its ranking. On September 5, the Defenders competed in the Augustana Invite, a night race under the lights. The Defender women placed third in the event. Finishing first with 66 points was the University of South Dakota, followed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with 73 points; both USD and UNL are NCAA Division-I schools. Coming in at fourth was Augustana College, a Division-II powerhouse.
“It was our first time beating Augustana,” Van Dyke said. “It felt good and was a good barometer to where we’re at this early in the season.”
Dordt’s women’s cross country was not always a national-ranked juggernaut. The Defenders started their path of success in 2006 when Greg Van Dyke took over as the men’s and women’s head coach. When Van Dyke first took over, only nine women were on the women’s cross country roster; now there are 23 women.
“It was an average team with a couple really good individuals,” coach Van Dyke said about his first team in 2006. “The talent was there, we just failed to put the whole puzzle together.”
Dordt’s turnaround was the 2011 season, when eight new women joined the team. Those freshmen are still on the team, leading this time as a strong group of seniors.
“Earlier, we would have one or two great runners, but getting those eight women was huge for the program,” Van Dyke said. “They went from just missing nationals their freshman year to ninth sophomore year and sixth last year as juniors.”
But it’s not just the success that defines these women. To them, Dordt women’s cross country is more than a team, but also a close-knit group of friends and family.
“We are a hard-working, well-rounded family,” De Vries said.
“I always like to say we get paid to spend time with friends,” Byl said. “It’s hard work, but we get scholarships to run and grow together.”
It’s that close-knit, caring mentality that has pushed Dordt women’s cross country to where it is today. Whether a national powerhouse or a strong, Christian family, the women’s cross country team will put it all on the line for each other and for God.