Sara Hofer – Staff Writer
On Nov. 18 in Tallahassee, Fla., the Dordt University men’s cross-country team clinched their first NAIA National Championship. Going into nationals, the Defenders were ranked third overall and made crucial moves throughout the race to secure a lead and hopefully a victory. Totaling a score of 97 points to beat the national runner-up by 18, Dordt’s fall season of preparation and goal to achieve a national title became a reality.
The journey to prepare for another potential national meet has continued to build, season after season. With an eighth place finish last year, the Defenders were looking to push themselves more to see what they could accomplish this time around. Head cross country coach Nate Wolf could see the team’s journey and goal throughout this season held the hope of making it back again.
“The process started a year ago when we felt like we could be a team in the top four at the national meet,” Wolf said. “We wanted to be, and [we] compete at a level we know we can compete at our best and hoped good things would come out of it.”
As the team was preparing for nationals, the main strategy was aiming to compete in positions where they knew they could finish.
The team consisted of seniors Joe Anderson,Davis Tebben, Trey Engen, Peter Shippy, Eric Steiger, Thaniel Schroeder, junior Ethan Summerhays, and sophomore Aidan Vorster.
“The most rewarding part of winning the national championship is the fulfillment of a five-year dream,” Tebben said. “[Eric] Steiger and I came in to Dordt as freshmen five years ago and we were a part of Dordt’s first ever conference championship in men’s cross country. Many people who build great teams will plant seeds and never get the eat the fruit, but the other seniors and I got to experience both the planting and the harvest.”
Anderson finished 13th overall with an 8K time of 24:28 with Tebben close behind in 17th place. Shippy finished 18th, moving up 68 spots in the overall race, ending with a personal best time of 24:36, while Steiger finished 23rd, clocking a time of 24:40. Summerhays, with a time of 25:00, placed 45th overall in his junior season, and Vorster, competing in his first national championship, finished 50th with a time of 25:02. Engen finished with a time of 25:54 at the meet, finishing 148th. The four Defenders who finished in the top 40 received All-American honors.
“They raced with confidence, with each other, and supported one another throughout the race,” Wolf said. “We were better because we worked as a group, and it was the group that made it happen for us. The way they raced is what made it a fulfilling day.”
Over the course of the season, the team has put in countless hours to achieve the first national title in program history, along with the first title won by a GPAC school. With many seniors finishing their season on the podium, they helped build a team over the years centered on trust, working together, and recognizing the strength of the team is its depth.
“Two traits that characterize this team are trust and humility because if it helps the team place higher, we don’t care if a teammate beats us in a race,” Tebben said. “This team more than any other I’ve been on recognizes that we are more than the sum of our parts. We know our teammates have our back when we race and if one of us falls short, the others will step up to carry the team.”
The men’s cross-country team has shown that winning a national championship can be within reach at Dordt. With the many different traits each person brings to the team, each member is of high value, holding the team together similarly to the body of Christ as described by Paul in Romans. The men’s cross-country team finished an outstanding season with not only a national title but with close friendships and a hopeful tradition that will continue for future Defenders.
“It’s all about the responsibility that those guys took in the process and did all the things they needed to do,” Wolf said. “It reflects the work these guys have done and one of the challenges we put before the group every year to see what can happen if you give 100%.”