Photo contributed by goleafs.net
By Tony Miller
The starting gun has fired on the Maple Leafs’ cross country seasons. The men have yet to lose a race to a degree-granting institution, falling only to an unofficial alumni team in the Goshen Hokum Karem on Sept. 1. The women have placed in the top three in each meet they have attended.
In fact, Goshen’s success is being realized: the men have been third in the Crossroads League in all three polls released this year and received votes in each NAIA national ranking. But for a program with 23 all-conference selections in the last dozen years, a couple of wins and a third-place league ranking will not be good enough.
Goshen will be in action Friday night at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., for the Augustana Invitational. The women’s race will begin at 6 p.m. Goshen time; the men an hour later. The racing loop at the Saukie Golf Course is traditionally fast, with almost a third of the field last year clocking a final pace of under 5:30 per mile.
The Maple Leaf men are hoping to use that fast track to their advantage. “[No. 23] Olivet Nazarene will also be there this weekend,” said Andrew Witkowski, a junior and former all-conference pick. “If we beat them, we think we’ll be ranked next week.” The fourth edition of the NAIA coaches poll will be released on Wednesday, Sept. 26.
Two weeks ago, Goshen was victorious on the men’s side at the Grace Invitational in Winona Lake. Billy Funk, a senior, was the overall individual champion in 26:42.7, followed closely by Daniel Zelaya, a sophomore, in 26:44.0. The Maple Leafs had six of the top 13 runners, finishing with a team score of 28 that was 13 points ahead of second-place Huntington.
The women were third in the race but their 77 points were only three shy of the hosts’ second-place total. Cynthia Medina, a first-year, was tenth in her first college race, finishing in 20:33.5. Ali Hochstetler (21:06.2), a sophomore, was 15th, followed by another first-year in Irene Schmid (17th in 21:20.2) and Karla Folker, a senior (18th in 21:32.3). Goshen had five runners under 22 minutes, and seven of the fifteen Maple Leaf runners were in the top 30.