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Rare senior trio grabs three MVP awards
By Jeff Febus

Over the years, the Calvin men's cross country team has produced several MIAA Most Valuable Runners but rarely has it produced three in one class. This fall, the rarity became reality when Calvin senior Justin Pfruender became the third member of an extraordinary group of seniors to be named the MIAA's Most Valuable Runner. Joining Pfruender in the MIAA MVP circle were senior teammates Dan Hoekstra (MIAA MVP 2000) and Joel Klooster (MIAA MVP 1999).

Over the course of their four-year cross country careers at Calvin, the senior trio led the Knights to four consecutive MIAA and Great Lakes Regional titles. Most notable however was the fact that the group was a significant part of Calvin teams that recorded four straight top-four national finishes including a national championship in 2000.

"Joel, Justin and Dan are part of a special group of runners that helped take our team to a higher level over the last four years," said Al Hoekstra who shares the men's cross country duties with Brian Diemer at Calvin. "They have played a huge role in the success of the Calvin men's cross country program over the last four years and they will be difficult to replace."

The trio arrived at Calvin from different locations as Hoekstra came from Kalamazoo, Mich., Pfruender from Midland, Mich., and Klooster from Chatham, Ont. Despite their different backgrounds, all three were attracted by the same things when looking at Calvin's cross country program.

"I was struck by the great team atmosphere when I visited as a high school student," said Hoekstra who attended Kalamazoo Christian High School. "I knew that if I came here, I would have a lot of runners to push me and a big community of support."
Klooster saw the same thing. "I sensed that there was a strong team atmosphere when I came for a visit," said Klooster who prepped at Chatham Christian High School. "I also wanted to be on a team contending for a national title and I knew that Calvin was in the national hunt every year."

A graduate of Midland High School, Pfruender was intrigued by everything Calvin had to offer. "I was very impressed by Calvin's academics and Christian emphasis when I visited," said Pfruender. "When I witnessed the team atmosphere of the Calvin cross country team, I knew that I would not find a better combination anywhere else."

Upon arriving at Calvin, all three met with some adversity during their freshman cross country campaigns. Hoekstra arrived at Calvin a year earlier in 1997 but was forced to red-shirt the entire year with a painful knee injury. Klooster and Pfruender also had rocky starts. Competing in their first collegiate race on a hot and humid day at the Wisconsin-Parkside Invitational in 1998, both runners collapsed short of the finish line with heat exhaustion and required medical attention afterwards.

"It was pretty scary because I did not know what was going on at first," said Klooster. "My body would not allow me to push forward any more and it took a long time for me to recover. It was frustrating at times and a big breakthrough when I was finally able to train again."

Pfruender's recovery from heat exhaustion came more quickly and he responded by running in Calvin's top seven by year end, just missing All-America honors with a 38th place finish at the NCAA III Championships as Calvin finished second as a team.
"Starting out the season with heat exhaustion was scary," said Pfruender. "I would not have made it back as quickly as I did without the support of my teammates. I had 18 guys behind me the whole way, pushing for my recovery and return. That helped me out a lot."

Hoekstra also made his return to the cross country course in 1998 and ran in Calvin's top seven at the national meet in his first year of collegiate competition. "Sitting out that first year really had a big affect on me," said Hoekstra. "When I was able to finally run again, I had a fire burning inside of me that made any type of pain feel so small. I had to develop a lot of mental toughness to come back. If everything had gone well for me at the outset, I would not have become the runner that I am today."

Diemer agreed. "Dan, Joel and Justin all had setbacks when they started out," he said. "They could have packed it in early but instead they decided to persevere and their perseverance paid off."

Indeed. In 1999, Klooster and Hoekstra both earned first team All-MIAA and Great Lakes All-Region honors as the Knights swept to MIAA and Great Lakes Regional crowns. Klooster captured first place at the MIAA Championships to receive the MIAA's MVP award. At the national meet, Calvin took fourth as a team with Pfruender breaking through for All-America honors with a 23rd place individual finish.

The second consecutive top-four national finish left the Knights hungry for a national championship.

"When I came to Calvin, one of my goals was to be on a national championship team," said Klooster. "At the time, I did not realize what an enormous quest that would be. We found out that to win a national championship, it takes an entire team of guys all striving for the same goal."

It also takes an injury-free season and in 2000, Klooster, Pfruender, Hoekstra and the rest of their teammates ran virtually injury free, taking first place in every meet they competed in including the NCAA III Championship meet in Spokane, Wash. At the national meet, Calvin recorded one of the most impressive team performances in NCAA III cross country history as the Knights placed five runners in the top 30 and recorded a first place score of 65 points. Hoekstra capped off an unbelievable junior campaign by taking second place at the national meet while Klooster was 10th and Pfruender 14th as all three earned All-America accolades.

"It was just a beautiful day where everything came together," said Hoekstra, who was named the MIAA's MVP and Great Lakes Regional Athlete of the Year earlier in the season. "The chemistry on our team was such that no one wanted to let anyone down and because of that, everyone pushed each other to their best effort."

"We were very blessed to have remained injury-free last year," said Klooster. "Our team verse was from Proverbs 21:31 which says 'The horse is made ready for battle but victory rests in the Lord.' We knew that we had prepared for the national meet to the best of our ability but it was God that gave us the opportunity to run that day."

This past fall, injuries returned as Hoekstra and Klooster both missed significant time with ailments, forcing them to cross-train in Calvin's pool. Their presence was sorely missed while they were away, said Pfruender. "There was a big void when Dan and Joel were not able to train with us outside," said Pfruender. "They are both incredible leaders and we missed them a lot. When they were able to come back in late October, it gave our team a huge boost."

In the meantime, Pfruender was forced to help fill the leadership void and the lanky senior responded by taking first place at the MIAA Championships to become the third member of his class to be named the MIAA's MVP in men's cross country.

With Klooster and Hoekstra back in the fold, Calvin also swept to an unprecedented 15th consecutive MIAA title and later added its sixth straight regional title to its mantle with Hoekstra running to Great Lakes Regional Athlete of the Year accolades for the second straight season.

At the NCAA III Championships in Rock Island, Ill., all three seniors fought their way to All-America berths once again as the Knights finished second as a team with 141 points. Pfruender recorded the finest race of his collegiate career in the meet as he took sixth place individually while Hoekstra was 23rd and Klooster 26th.

Now that their collegiate cross country careers are over, all three look back with gratefulness, particularly to their coaches. "Brian (Diemer) taught us how to predetermine and believe in ourselves," said Pfruender. "We learned that if we did not tell ourselves that we could do it on the race course beforehand, then it would be a lost cause." The influence also carried over to Klooster. "Brian and Al have been the most influential people on me in my four years at Calvin," said Klooster. "They never gave up on me, even when I was struggling with injuries and they taught me never to take anything for granted."

Hoekstra credited the coaching duo for his spiritual growth. "Brian and Al have helped guide me my Christian faith," said Hoekstra. "They helped me learn how to rely on God, particularly in the tough times."

The three seniors have also all experienced success in the classroom. Pfruender and Hoekstra carry 3.4 grade point averages while Klooster has compiled a sparkling 3.98 mark and was named a Verizon Academic All-American in 2000. An exercise science major, Pfruender plans to attend graduate school after Calvin. A secondary education major with an emphasis in the sciences, Hoekstra recently completed his student teaching at Grand Rapids Central High School and plans to become a high school science teacher. Klooster is an electrical engineering major and has helped design several of the campus computer labs around Calvin. Klooster also plans to continue his studies at the graduate level and is looking to pursue further research in digital and wireless communications.
"Calvin has been a wonderful place for me," said Klooster in conclusion. "The school combines great academics and tremendous athletics in a Christian atmosphere. I was on cross country teams that challenged for the national title every year in a warm and caring environment. I would not have wanted to have been anywhere else."

Men's Cross Country

A fan's-eye view of the national championships

Victory at Regionals


MIAA Cross Country

 

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