By: Tony Miller
Ryan Smith’s college cross country career is off to an auspicious start. A 33-year-old Goshen College record fell Friday night when Smith, a first-year, crossed the finish line at the Brissman-Lundeen Invitational, a cross country meet in Rock Island, Illinois.
Smith completed the 8,000 meter (4.97 mile) course in 25 minutes, 19 seconds, nine seconds faster than the time set by Mark Plank during his sophomore season of 1982. Smith finished fifth overall, the top NAIA finisher in a meet that attracted 34 complete teams in addition to unattached runners.
Goshen finished ninth as a team, the second highest NAIA squad. The University of Chicago, an NCAA Division III institution, won the team competition with 45 points. The eight institutions that defeated Goshen included six Division III schools, NAIA opponent St. Xavier, and Illinois of NCAA Division I.
The race, hosted by Augustana College, was Smith’s second appearance in the Goshen record book: his 26:00 time at the Grace Invitational was tied for the 23rd fastest time in school history.
The record setting effort was the 27th time a Goshen runner has cracked the 26-minute barrier, which is a pace of 5:14 per mile. Smith is the 14th athlete to finish with at least that pace, the eighth to do so more than once. Justin Gillette, a 2005 graduate and current assistant coach, holds the Maple Leaf record for sub-26:00 races with five.
Five of the sub-26:00 runs were by first-year students: Smith is the first runner to finish inside that time in his first two career races. Every such effort was made by a member of Goshen’s 2013 team: Jordan Smeltzer, a junior, did it twice, with Andrew Witkowski, a senior, recording the fifth.
Even without the services of Smeltzer and track national qualifier Lucas Harnish, a sophomore, both sidelined with injuries, Goshen’s top five runners were separated by only a minute and 58 seconds. Daniel Zelaya, a junior, finished 36th in 26:16, one second shy of appearing in the top 50 times in program history. Along with Smith, three other first-years (Danny Klink, Luke Graber and Isaiah Friesen) were in the Leafs’ top six runners; all four posted personal best times.
The cross country teams are off this weekend before participating in another Friday night meet on October 11 at the Benedictine Invitational in suburban Chicago.