2009 Calvin Men’s Cross Country Preview
Saturday, August 08, 2009
Will the 2009 Calvin men’s cross country season be one of reloading or rebuilding? The answer may lie somewhere in between.
Calvin’s run of 10 consecutive top-four national finishes came to end in 2008 as the Knights slipped to fifth place at the NCAA III Cross Country Championships. Eligibility for two All-Americans from last year’s squad has also been exhausted leaving plenty of question marks surrounding a 2009 Calvin men’s cross country team that features only four seniors and just three individuals that were members of its team that competed at the 2008 national meet.
The three returning individuals were all named to the 2008 All-MIAA first team however, giving a youthful Calvin team a good base on which to build. Returning All-MIAA runners include senior George Visser (West Chicago, IL/Winfield HS), junior Jake Christiansen (New Ipswich, NH/Mascenic Regional HS) and sophomore Nick Kramer (Dyer, IN/Illiana Christian HS).
Visser placed eighth at the 2008 MIAA Championships and later earned a spot on the Great Lakes All-Region team by placing 32nd. As a sophomore in 2007, Visser recorded an NCAA III provisional qualifying time in the 3,000 meter steeplechase during the outdoor track and field season. Christiansen was 11th at the MIAA Championships and 31st at the Great Lakes Regional meet, also landing a spot on the Great Lakes All-Region squad. During the track season, Christiansen was the MIAA runner-up in the 10,000 meter run. Kramer was 10th at the MIAA Championships and then served as Calvin’s alternate at both the regional and national meets. At the MIAA track and field championships this spring, Kramer was third in the 1,500 meters and fourth in the 5,000 meters.
Other returning varsity letterwinners include seniors Aaron Goodman (Milwaukee, WI/Wisconsin Lutheran HS), Ben Van Wyk (Sussex, NJ/High Point HS) and Kyle Mast (Zeeland/Holland Christian HS), junior Alex Wrobel (Arden Hills, MN/Mounds View HS) and sophomore Rhett Morici (St. Charles, IL/St. Charles North HS). Goodman is coming off a standout track and field campaign that saw him qualify for the NCAA III Championships in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. He also placed 12th at the 2008 MIAA Cross Country Championships. Mast, Van Wyk and Wrobel have all garnered success in track and field and will look to translate that to the cross country pitch this fall.
A host of runners that were members of Calvin’s 2008 junior varsity squad will also look to contribute as will a talented incoming freshman class.
According to head coach Brian Diemer, the Knights are faced with their biggest challenge since 1997 when the Knights featured a youthful squad that had lost several veteran standouts to graduation. That 1997 squad proceeded to not only win the MIAA and the Great Lakes Regional title but also finished sixth at the NCAA III Championships.
“I’d be thrilled to repeat what we did in 1997 but we really have our work cut out for us this year,” said Diemer. “That is not to say that this team will not succeed but several things have to happen like they did in 1997. The biggest thing is that several veterans who have hung back in the shadows have to step up for us this fall. We also need our returning all-conference runners to remain healthy and make improvements over what they did a year ago. I believe that they can. Finally, we need our first-year runners to contribute and I am confident that they will.”
So is long-time assistant coach Al Hoekstra who also serves as the recruiting coordinator for the Calvin men’s and women’s cross country teams. “We have a talented group of freshmen and that’s good because we’ll need some of them to contribute right away,” said Hoekstra. “This is the first time in several years that we do not head into the season with a host of established runners. That will definitely present some challenges but I think this team is looking forward to those challenges.”
The season will kick off this fall when the Knights host their annual Knight Invitational - scheduled this year for September 19 at the Gainey Athletic Complex. The Knights will also the Michigan Intercollegiates on October 9, featuring some of the top teams from around the state of Michigan at the NCAA I, II, III and NAIA levels.
“We’re excited to host two big invitationals,” said Diemer. “We have some of the best cross country fans of any program in the country. It’s exciting for them to get a chance to cheer us on at home and to get a chance to watch some of the top runners from other big programs throughout the Midwest.”
Calvin will also compete at the Notre Dame Invitational (October 2) and Wisconsin-Oshkosh Invitational (October 17). The MIAA jamboree is slated for September 26 with Hope serving as host. The MIAA Championships will take place on October 31 at Adrian. The Great Lakes Regional meet is scheduled for November 14 at Rose-Hulman Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana. The NCAA III Championships will take place the following week, November 21, in Cleveland, Ohio, with Baldwin-Wallace serving as host.