The men’s and women’s cross country teams began their season on Sept. 1 at the Winrow-Valparaiso Open in Valparaiso. The meet was made up of NCAA Division I schools and fellow NAIA team Grace College. 

GC men’s and women’s teams were nationally ranked in the preseason polls. The men are ranked No. 13 and the women are ranked No. 24. 

The top performer for the men was junior Mathew Keitany, who placed sixth. Close behind were two more GC runners, senior Nelson Kemboi and sophomore Drew Hogan. Kemboi placed seventh, and Hogan took eighth place. Rounding out the top five for the men’s team were sophomore Anthony Roberts in 19th place and freshman Jacob Friesen in 23rd.

The men’s team were only handed losses from Purdue and Notre Dame. They defeated Valparaiso, another Division I school, and comfortably beat Grace who was ranked No. 16. Purdue won the meet and Notre Dame finished second, with the Leafs coming in very close with a third-place finish.

The Fighting Irish beat out the Leafs by a mere 3 points. The Leafs had an average time of 18:38.1, which Notre Dame bested by 7 seconds with an average of 18:31.4. The Notre Dame men’s team was nationally ranked in the Division 1 coaches poll at No. 8. 

The women’s top performers were junior Mercy Chebet, senior Summer Cooper, senior Annika Alderfer Fisher, senior Mia Wellington, and junior Stephany Claudio. Chebet and Cooper finished within 2 seconds of each other, coming in 16th and 17th. 

The women combined for a total time of 98:11, tied for the fourth-fastest combined top five time in program history. GC was 14 points behind fellow Crossroads League team No. 14 Grace.-

Head coach Rustin Nyce said, “I think it was a good opening race … it provided insight into where we are at and where we need to go.”

This year, the Leafs are eager to make history by sending both teams to the national championship. “We want to get to nationals,” said Nyce. “Friday’s race was a good start but we have work to do … it’s not November yet so we can’t be too satisfied with what we did early on … we need to continue to improve to achieve the goals we have set,” said Nyce. 

The team now has two weeks to prepare for the Ray Bullock Invitational at Taylor University. The meet is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 15, with the women racing at 5 p.m. and the men following.