Freshman cross country runner Zac Nowicki in spotlight
Freshman Zac Nowicki could be running in one of the biggest conferences in the country. He could be on a scholarship, get free Nikes and roam around the campus of a Division I school.
Instead, he arrived at Calvin this fall, where he doesn’t get an athletic scholarship or the perks of being a Division I athlete.
In high school at Calvin Christian, he was a three-time top 10 finisher at the Division III cross-country state finals and a three-time track all-state finisher.
When he had to make his college decision last spring, it came down to Calvin and Michigan State. He had accomplished all of the things necessary to go the Division I route and perhaps some day be a successful runner in the Big Ten. Despite this, he turned down Michigan State in favor of Calvin.
When asked why he chose Calvin, Nowicki stated, “I really chose Calvin because of the style of program that goes on here. It is much more team-centered and personal.
The coaches here have more of a relationship with me than they would at a bigger school. It has more than just me running on their team.” This team-focused attitude has carried on into the heart of the season when individual goals or concern about place on the team can easily cloud a runner’s head.
When asked what his goals for the season were, Nowicki said, “I want the team to do well at nationals because I know that we can do a lot better than we think.”
Individually, Nowicki has a shot at doing something that very few Calvin freshmen have done in the past: joining the company of two other Calvin runners who have been cross-country all-Americans as freshmen. This season, he has been the top finisher in all three of Calvin’s competitions.
The highlight for him so far was winning the MIAA Jamboree meet on Sept. 28. Coach Al Hoekstra said that it was the first time he had seen a freshman win a conference meet since he started coaching 28 years ago.
At the Notre Dame Invite two weekends ago, Nowicki got his first real taste of a crowded collegiate race. He went out hard and paid a little price for it in the last mile, but was still the third freshman finisher in a race that was made up of more than 70 percent NCAA Division I and Division II teams.
Head coach Brian Diemer said, “He is a very talented youngster who brought a lot of excitement into the program with him. It has been huge for the team to get a gem like Zac in a year that so much talent was lost to graduation.”
So why is it that Nowicki has had, and is having, so much success in running? For one, he has been blessed with great talent and an efficient runner’s build. He’s about five feet nine inches and a trim 130 pounds.
But there is more than his talent and build that gives him an edge. Nowicki is a fierce competitor. Along with being a successful runner, he was also an all-state wrestler in high school.
This has taught him a toughness that is extremely valuable in cross country. Diemer emphasizes that Nowicki has a good head on his shoulders that will enable him to succeed and continue to get better.
“I knew that there was a good freshman class coming in this year,” Nowicki said. “Knowing that pushed me every day this summer.” His teammates see the tenacity that he brings on a daily basis.
Fellow freshman Andrew Rylaarsdam, who was also teammates with Nowicki at Calvin Christian, said, “He is very much a competitor, one of the most competitive people I know. Sometimes he just gets this look in his eye and you know he is going to bring it.”
This weekend the Knights will be racing at Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the last race of the regular season. With championship racing right around the corner, the team is looking to come together and really do something inspiring.
Nowicki and some seasoned veterans, such as Sam Kerk and Philip Spitzer, are leading the team into the post-season, looking to win the regional and accomplish the goal that Nowicki shares with each of his teammates: to cross the finish line at the national meet on Nov. 23 and show that they are still a top team in Division III.