Allison Young- Staff Writer
Elsah, Illinois—Seven ladies and a lone man, senior Caleb Drake, represented Dordt College at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships on Saturday, Nov. 19th. After relinquishing their conference title to Morningside College at conference, the ladies dropped to 21st in the national rankings. While their ranking might have dipped, Coach Wolf’s confidence in his team’s abilities did not.
“I thought that our women were a little bit underrated going into it, and thought that we would outperform our rankings,” said Wolf. “How much, I wasn’t sure. I thought if we were healthy and we all ran well, we could probably finish in the top twelve. So finishing eleventh, I thought, was a very good day.”
The ladies beat every other team from the GPAC that had qualified for nationals, including Morningside College.
In his second individual appearance at the national meet, but the first time as a Defender, Drake covered the five-mile course in an all-time personal best of 25:00. Drake finished 17th out of 332 qualifiers, earning the coveted All-American status.
“Caleb’s race was a great race and individual effort,” said Wolf. “Averaging five minutes per mile for five miles is awesome. He ran his last two miles under ten minutes, which is pretty phenomenal.”
Wolf also felt very satisfied with the performances of the ladies, noting that everyone did a good job of positioning themselves for the finish and pushing hard over the last 1,000 meters of the 5,000-meter race. Several individuals gained momentum as they progressed through the rolling hills of the course, running negative splits.
Sophomore Annachiena Knevelbaard led the women’s team in a time of 18:14. Freshman Justine Van Zee, senior Julia Bos, senior Audrey Brooks, and senior Kelsey Lewis completed the five scorers, in that order.
“Anna obviously had a great performance to be 51st at her first national meet,” said Wolf. “She actually ran every mile faster than her previous mile.”
Van Zee had a strong performance in her fourth and final competition at cross country nationals, finishing 77th in 18:34. Bos came in right behind her, placing 83rd in 18:37.
“Julia Bos had her strongest college race,” said Wolf. “She moved really strongly over the last 1,000 meters, and really, over the course of the entire race. She also ran every mile faster than the previous mile, which is just incredible.”
Brooks finished fourth for the team, placing 133rd out of 334 competitors. Lewis rounded out the scorers, placing 138th in 19:06.
“I think Kelsey Lewis’s last college race was her best race, running top five for the first time this season,” said Wolf. “We really needed that to be able to finish the way we did.”
The Defenders’ 6th and 7th finishers, junior Erika Douma and freshman Erin Bandstra, placed 149th and 158th, respectively.
The team walked away from the day very satisfied with their achievements. After a rather volatile season of ups and downs, as many of the athletes battled health and injury issues, it was good to finally have things come together at Nationals.
“Both men and women were worthy of being at the national meet,” said Wolf. “For both the men and women, they put in a good year of work across the entire team, and it was fun to see the culmination of that with the people that were at nationals. The nine people that went to nationals were a representation of a really good men’s and women’s cross country season.”