The Goshen College men’s cross country team qualified for nationals for the first time in the program’s history.
Previously, only individuals have qualified and one of the men’s teams’ goals, at the beginning of the season, was to qualify for nationals.
“This year we finally had enough momentum to make it through,” Lucas Harnish, a junior, said.
The cross country team belongs to the Crossroads League Conference and is part of the larger NAIA organization, made of up 23 conferences and 200 schools in the nation.
Based on the Crossroads League meet, Indiana Wesleyan University received an automatic bid for nationals, and Taylor University, Goshen College and Marian University received at-large bids from national raters.
At the conference meet, the team made third place, but was only seven points away from being second. Harnish helped the team boost their placement when he passed two Marian runners in the last two hundred meters, putting Marian in fourth place.
Although the team did not place first in conference, and they haven’t since 1980, the top eight runners will travel to nationals; seven will run and one will serve as an alternate.
The runners include: Jordan Smeltzer, a senior; Moses Kaelo, a senior; Lucas Harnish, a junior; Isaiah Friesen, a sophomore; Danny Klink, a sophomore; Luke Kauffman, a sophomore; Luke Graber, a sophomore; and Tim Lehman, a junior. Ryan Smith, a sophomore who is usually the number two runner, is injured and is unable to participate in this meet.
Both Smeltzer and Smith would have qualified for nationals individually if the team had not advanced. These two have both been previous qualifiers for nationals.
Smeltzer qualified in 2011as a first-year and 2012 as a sophomore, and was part of the first group of individuals to go to nationals since 1983. While Smith also qualified in 2012 as a first-year, and he currently holds the school record for top performance in the 8k at 25:19, which he ran during his 2013 season.
Goshen men’s cross country has been close to qualifying for nationals the last four years, but never had the highest rankings or seasonal records. Despite having the entire top seven from 2011 return for the 2012 season, the team still was unable to reach nationals together.
This year, the men’s team placed first in two of their seven races, but was continually behind Indiana Wesleyan University all season. However, the raters ranked Goshen in the top 25 teams, which helped in receiving the at-large bid for nationals.
The ratings for teams come out weekly based on schools’ performances against other teams. Rating representatives vote each week on the best teams in each conference. Goshen’s small size contributes to its lower ratings, but once ranked in the top, the team is enabled to enter the raters’ radars for future consideration.
Doug Yoder, who has been the head cross country coach for eleven years, is very proud of the team.
“They’ve worked really hard and really pulled together this year. There’s been a lot of strong camaraderie. They really support each other. It’s a great accomplishment for the team and for Goshen College to be able to have the opportunity to represent the college,” Yoder said.
Harnish attributed the team’s success in part to the strong group dynamics, saying that the team vows to stick with each other for at least some of the race and always encourages each other verbally.
Yoder hopes for the team to place higher than 20th at nationals.
Cross country scoring works by assigning a point value to a runner’s numeric placement: first place receives one point, second place receives two points. The total score of a team is the culmination of each runner’s place value. The first five runners count towards the score, while the last two runners are not included in the total, but can add numbers to other teams’ scores.
The national championship meet will be held at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan. on Nov. 22. The team will leave Thursday, Nov. 20 in order to have time to practice on the course before Saturday’s race.