Isabel Pheifer— Staff Writer
Dordt University’s cross country squads have big shoes to fill after an impressive 2020 season where both the men’s and women’s teams finished as GPAC champions. Their head coach, Nate Wolf, is excited about what this year has to offer.
“They work hard, support each other, and are coachable,” Wolf said. “It is a group you look forward to seeing each day.”
The Dordt women enter this season ranked sixth in the NAIA, while the men kick off the year in the number thirteen spot. Both boast the highest slots of any team in the GPAC, largely thanks to both squads returning a majority of their runners.
“We will have several athletes that were freshmen or sophomores last year that will have a big impact on this year’s team,” Wolf said. “Several of the men and women took really good steps during the spring track and field season and then built on that as they head into this fall.”
For the men, nine out of the ten of their GPAC Championship team are back for another go at the title. In particular, look out for junior Joe Anderson, senior Nic Veldhorst, and senior Jacob Vander Plaats to make an impact on the course as these three finished in the top 70 at the NAIA Championship last year.
It’s much of the same for the women, who also return nine of the ten from last year’s GPAC Championship unit. This group also took an eighth-place finish at the NAIA Championship. Jessica Kampman, a junior, finished thirty-first at that race a year ago and is hoping for an equally successful season this fall. Also, make note of junior Taylor Anema, the reigning GPAC champion, senior Eden Winslow, and junior Bethany Ten Haken. These women all took home fifteenth place or better at the GPAC Championship last year.
An exciting group of freshmen also joins the team this year (nine for the men and seven for the women).
“We really like our freshmen.” Wolf said. “Both teams have a large number of returners, which will keep the pressure low for them and allow them to focus on their training over the course of the entire year.”
The teams’ mantra for this year? Taking each day at a time.
“We have not talked much about the end of the season at this point,” Wolf said. “Right now, our main focus is on quality training each day and maintaining daily habits that can lead to quality recovery, allowing our bodies to respond to the training stimulus, strengthen, and come back and train at a higher level.”
The Defenders opened their season in Sioux Falls, S.D. at the Auggie Twilight: a nighttime race with multiple thousands of runners ranging from Division One universities to high school JV teams. For the women, Kampman finished tenth overall.
“I just tried to stick with them as best I could,” Kampman said about staying in the front of the pack of 329 runners in her division. “There is a little bit of stop and go at times”
For the men, Davis Tebben highlighted with a twenty-third place finish.
“It felt insane,” Tebben said. “All you can do in a race like this is react. You can’t have much strategy; you just have to do the next thing. And if the next thing means you’re passing some of these guys from big schools… that’s really, really motivating.”
The men’s and women’s cross country seasons will conclude with the GPAC championship in Orange City, Iowa on Nov. 6 and the national championship in Vancouver, Washington on Nov. 19.