Calvin Womenís Cross Country Team: Breaking the Tape
By Jeff Febus Ď92
The Calvin College womenís cross country team put it all together in Ď98 and - at last- broke the finish line tape for a National Championship.
After earing five top-four national finishes over the last six years, including national runner-up finishes in 1993, 1993 and 1994, the Calvin women captured their first national championship posting a first-place total of 124 points at the NCAA III Cross Country Championships November 21 at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, outdistancing the College of New Jersey which placed second with 170 points.
The national championship by the Calvin womenís cross country team is the second national title in Calvinís athletic history, joining the national title won by the 1991-92 menís basketball team. It is also the first national championship by an MIAA team in cross country and the 12th national team championship in MIAA history.
"It is a thrill and an honor for our team to win the national championship," said Calvin womenís cross country coach Nancy Meyer who was named the national cross country coach of the year after the meet. "After finishing a disappointing ninth at last yearís nationals, our team started making plans for this year and I think our team was extremely focused and determined all season to reach this goal."
The Calvin women were led by three All-America performances at the national meet as junior Lisa Timmer of Ann Arbor, Mich. was 10th (18:18), senior Amy Mizzone of Wayne, N.J., 12th (18:19) and senior Andrea Clark of McBain, Mich., 35th (18:47). The top-35 finishers at nationals are All-Americans.
Following Clark was senior Sarah Gibson of Wooster, Ohio, in 64th (19:08); sophomore Rashel Bays of Sparta, Mich., 67th (19:09); junior Sarah Gritter of Tampa, Fla., in 83rd (19:18) and junior Elizabeth Kuipers of Sarnia, Ont., 100th (19:26).
"We have a very tight-knit team and last night before the race we got together and talked about how God has given us the talent to run," said Clark, a fifth-year senior. "We had the goal and focus in our minds that however we ran or where we finished, we would be doing it in a way to glorify God in giving thanks for the talent he has given us."
Ranked number one in the country for the final six weeks of the season, the Calvin team handled the pressure of its lofty ranking well, according to Meyer. "Itís easy to get distracted when you are ranked first for much of the season, but I think our women handled the pressure of the ranking extremely well," she said. "Itís definitely the most spiritual team I have ever coached and they kept that focus all season."
Calvin provided a glimpse of what was yet to come in its season opener on September 19, at the Wisconsin-Parkside Invitational in Kenosha, Wis. Battling soaring temperatures and high humidity, Calvin took first place with 85 points, finishing four points ahead of Division I Southern-Illinois at Carbondale and more than 110 points ahead of perennial Division III power Wisconsin-Oshkosh. The race did not come without a price however as Calvin freshman Katie VanderSchaaf, of Grandville, Mich., along with three members of the Calvin menís cross country team were hospitalized after the race due to heat exhaustion. All four runners were released later in the day but the afternoon did not come without a gentle reminder. "Itís easy to come into a race and a season for that matter with big plans and ideas," said assistant coach Al Hoekstra who also shares coaching duties with the menís program. "The entire day was a reminder to us all that we were not in control but that God is and I think that served both teams well throughout the season."
The following Saturday, Calvin opened the defense of its MIAA title in impressive fashion in front of its home fans at the Christian Reformed Recreation Center in Grand Rapids, as it cruised to a first place finish at the MIAA Jamboree wtih 23 points, placing seven runners in the top 13 including four in the top five. Mizzone and Timmer led the Calvin charge as they would do all season. Mizzone was first in 18:25 and Timmer second in 18:34 while Clark was fourth in 18:56 and Gritter fifth in 19:01.
Next up was the prestigious Notre Dame Invitational on Friday, October 2. Running primarily in a field of Division I schools, Calvin still managed to finish 11th with 267 points with Mizzone finishing eighth in 17:19. The finish by Mizzone marked the first time in Calvin womenís cross country history that one of its runner had cracked the top 10 at Notre Dame. Calvin then proved that it belonged among the elite schools in the state of Michigan at the Michigan Intercollegiates the following Friday finishing fourth with 103 points, only trailing Division I Michigan, Michigan State and Eastern Michigan. Mizzone and Timmer ran among the leaders throughout the race with Mizzone breaking up Michiganð=s nationally-ranked top-five runners as she was sixth in 17:32 while Timmer was close behind in 11th with a time of 17:46.
The Knights returned to Wisconsin-Parkside on October 17 and again came home with a first place finish recording 46 points, 14 points ahead of Division I Marquette. After a two-week break, Calvin then captured its 11th consecutive MIAA title on October 31 at the MIAA Championships at Alma College, posting a first place total of 25 points by taking seven of the top 11 spots. Timmer took the top spot in the race with a time of 18:02 while Mizzone was third (18:16); Clark sixth (18:40); Gibson seventh (18:51); Kuipers eighth (18:53); freshman Lindsay Carrier of Wyoming, Mich., ninth (19:03) and Bays 11th (19:11). With her finish, Timmer was named the MIAAð=s MVP for a second straight year and earned a spot on the All-MIAA First Team for a second straight year. Also earning All-MIAA First Team honors from Calvin were Mizzone, Clark and Kuipers while Gibson, Carrier and Bays earned spots on the All-MIAA Second Team.
At the Great Lakes Regional hosted by Albion on November 14, Calvin picked up the pace to earn its 10th consecutive trip to nationals placing all seven of its runners in the top 18 to take first place by a wide margin with a total of 36 points, nearly 70 points ahead of second place Hope. Mizzone won the race with a sizzling time of 17:56 to earn Great Lakes Regional Athlete of the Year honors. Timmer and Clark were also in the top 10; Timmer was third (18:34 and Clark seventh (18:39). Gritter returned from a knee injury to finish 12th in 18:50 while Kuipers was 13th (18:50); Bays 14th (18:56) and Gibson 18th (19:05). All seven Calvin runners earned a spot on the Great Lakes All-Region Team. In addition, Meyer was named Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year for the fifth time in the last six years after the race.
"We wanted to set the tone nationals," said Meyer after the race. "We accomplished our goals in impressive fashion and weíre looking forward to nationals with great anticipation and excitement."
The rest as they say is history as the Knights took the final step in their quest for a national crown that had eluded them the previous nine times at nationals. With its three All-America finishes at nationals this fall, the Calvin womenís cross country program has now produced 16 All-Americans.
"I have to credit all of the great runners that came before this team," said Meyer after reflecting on her teamís accomplishment. "Weíve had five top-four national finishes before this year and all of the runners that have helped build this program into what it is today share in the success of todayís accomplishment."
Hoekstra also echoed Meyerís thoughts. "The Calvin cross country program is a family,ð@ said Hoekstra. "Once you are a part of this family, you remain a member. There have been many great runners and many great people who share in the success of the Calvin cross country program today"
MENíS CROSS COUNTRY EARNS NATIONAL RUNNER-UP HONORS
The Calvin menís cross country team nearly made it a double national championship day on November 21 as it finished as the national runner-up with 122 points, just 16 points behind first place North Central of Illinois. The second-place finish was the best-ever national finish in Calvin and MIAA menís cross country history. Calvin received two All-American performances as senior Geoff Van Dragt (Grand Rapids, Mich.) was 11th (25:24) and junior Scott Westhouse (Dorr, Mich.) fnished 34th (25:48). Freshman Justin Momany-Pfruender (Midland, Mich.) just missed All-American honors as he finished 38th (25:54) while senior Kent Frens (Fremont, Mich.) was close behind in 42nd (25:58). Senior Lee Doherty (Tucson, Ariz.) was the fifth-man for the Knights at 53rd (26:08) while sophomore Dan Hoekstra was 79th (26:22) and senior Jon Aukeman (Hudsonville, Mich.) was 121st (26:53) to round out Calvinð=s finishers.
During the year, Calvin overcame illness and injury to capture its 12th consecutive MIAA title as Van Dragt was named MIAA MVP for the second time in his career. The Knights then captured the Great Lakes Regional for the 10th time in the last 12 years as head coach Brian Diemer was named Great Lakes Regional Coach of the Year for the fourth time in the last five years.
"The entire season did not go according to our script," said Diemer after the national championships. "We had a lot of things go wrong and things that we had to overcome, and when those things were happening, we realized that the Lord was reminding us that we were not in charge but that he was. We put the race today in his hands and received confidence and peace from him that allowed us to run to the best of our abilities. It was an awesome day for the Calvin cross country program."