The Goshen College men’s cross country team ended a four-year hiatus when they returned to the NAIA coaches top-25 poll last Thursday. The team received 282 points on the 21 ballots which places them in 17th place.The Maple Leafs are the fourth Crossroads League team on the list and they currently sit behind Indiana Wesleyan (14th), Taylor (12th) and Huntington (9th).
Goshen finished ahead of Aquinas College (18th), Siena Heights (22nd) and Cornerstone University (27th); three teams that the Maple Leafs have already defeated this season, with the most recent victory coming at this past Friday’s Knight-Raider Invitational hosted by Grand Rapids Community College and Calvin College.
The Maple Leafs finished in second place with 77 points, only one place behind Cornerstone, who won the team classification with 63 points.
Vincent Kibunja, a senior, took first place overall at the event. Kibunja ran one of the 35 fastest times in the history of Goshen College men’s cross country program and achieved his first individual victory of the season.
The individual and team success is something that head coach Rustin Nyce believes to be stemming from hard work and the ability to learn from previous mistakes in past seasons.
“The guys are very smart,” Nyce said. “We basically have the same team as last year and have added some new members. These guys work hard and have earned everything they accomplish.”
Nyce credits the men’s success as a whole team effort by acknowledging the vital role that the assistant coaches, Dillon Hinen and Kayla Casaletto play, along with the women’s cross country team.
Nyce explained how the women’s team bring a boost of energy to practice and competitions due to their own achievements.
“The success we are having reflects the character and culture of the team,” Nyce said. “It’s all the little things that nobody sees that make a difference.”
This current ranking is one place short of the program’s best four years ago, which was 16th in the nation on Oct. 15, 2014. The Maple Leafs 2014 squad qualified for nationals as a team for the first time in the history of the program, by either men’s or women’s cross country.
But Nyce and the squad aren’t letting the rankings get to their heads.
“Rankings don’t matter in September,” Nyce said. “It will come down to how well we run at the big races later in the season that will determine our final rankings.”
“We need to continue to reinvest in our goals and each other to keep on track,” he said. “It really comes down to the guys believing in themselves, each other, the training, and passionately pursuing their goal of running in Vancouver in November.”
The Maple Leafs will return to action at the Louisville Sports Commission Classic in Kentucky on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 9:30 a.m.