The Maple Leafs cross country team could not be more exited. After being just points away from making it to the NAIA National Cross Country Championship for the past three years, the team has finally made their dream a reality. This season’s cross country team is the first in the history of Goshen College to make it to Nationals.“We’re flying in practice, hitting really fast times,” Jordan Smeltzer, a senior, said. “We’re peaking at the right time; we’re pumped, and we’re energized.”
For most of the team, this will be their first national meet experience, so spirits are high.
This trip to nationals holds a special significance for Smeltzer, as he went to nationals individually his first two years at GC, but didn’t run much last season due to injury.
“It was really hard for me,” Smeltzer said of his season off. “But having the team there to motivate me to overcome the injury—they encouraged me to keep running and to have a great season—I didn’t want to let them down.”
Now that he’s recovered, Smeltzer has high hopes for the final race of his GC cross-country career.
“Freshman year after nationals, I told myself I wanted to be All-American before I graduated,” Smeltzer said.
He admits that qualifying as All-American this weekend would require running a personal best and some luck, but this is his last chance.
The team qualifying means it’s not just Smetlzer who gets to be excited for the opportunity.
“Qualifying for nationals is pretty much a dream come true,” said Isaiah Friesen, a sophomore, who is looking forward to having his family and friends in Kansas to support them as they race this Saturday.
When asked what made this season different from other seasons, they responded that it all comes down to team dynamics.
“The whole team is pushing each other from the front to the back,” Luke Kaufman, a sophomore, said.
Friesen also said, “We’re running more for each other and less for ourselves. Jordan is the senior leader of the team, and to have him back has been really good for us leadership wise. We’ve just gotten stronger and trained smart. We functioned as a community.”
Danny Klink, a sophomore, attributed much of their success to Doug Yoder’s excellent training program. While Yoder is known for his relaxed demeanor, the guys say they can tell he’s “very excited inside.”
As a team, the Maple Leafs hope to beat the other members of their conference, like Taylor and Marion University, and to race competitively, hopefully moving up from their seed position in 20th place.
Unfortunately, Ryan Smith, who was the team’s second place runner at conference, won’t be running at the national meet due to a stress reaction in his toe, but the team is optimistic.
“Luke Graber is going to step up to fill that absence, and we still have depth—a huge pack after the first couple guys,” Smeltzer said. “We’re ready to go!”