2009 Calvin Women’s Cross Country Preview
Saturday, August 08, 2009
The Calvin women’s cross country team will enter the 2009 season with lofty goals. The Knights are focused on winning MIAA and Great Lakes Regional titles while also contending for their first national title since 1999.
A year ago, Calvin accomplished all three goals, winning MIAA and Great Lakes Regional crowns while finishing second at the NCAA III Championships. The Knights return five individuals who competed at the 2008 NCAA III Championships and also return their alternate runner from that team.
Head coach Brian Diemer knows that his squad will be one of the teams favored to win come November. “On paper we should be one of the teams contending for the (national) title this year but in order to do that, we need to focus and take things one step at a time,” said Diemer who has led the Calvin women’s cross country team to three top-four national finishes in his three years at the helm of the Knights. “Our first step is to win the MIAA. Our second step is to win our regional title. If we can reach those two goals and remain relatively injury-free, we have a chance to contend at nationals. The biggest keys for this team will be to stay healthy, focused each step of the way and encouraging for one another.”
Leadership should come from a big senior class. Three key seniors to watch include Lauren Bergstrom (Rochester, MN/Century HS), Jessica Koster (Grand Rapids/Grand Rapids Christian HS) and Jesi Hale (Rehoboth, NM/Gallup HS).
Bergstrom is a returning cross country All-American. She placed 21st at the 2008 NCAA III Championships after placing 92nd in 2007 and 85th in 2006. She has also garnered All-America honors multiple times in track and field including All-America berths in the mile run (indoor) and 800 meters (outdoor) last spring. A fifth-year senior, Bergstrom did not compete in cross country her freshman year at Calvin but chose instead to play on the Calvin women’s soccer team. As a cross country runner, she has been a three-time first team All-MIAA selection and a three-time Great Lakes All-Region choice.
Koster was an All-American at the 2008 NCAA III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, placing fifth in the 10,000 meters. She is also a two-time first team All-MIAA selection in cross country. Koster struggled with illness at the 2008 NCAA III Cross Country Championships but did finish 49th at the 2007 national meet. Also a standout in the classroom, Koster was named a first team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America selection this past June.
Like Bergstrom, Hale is also a fifth-year senior. As a Calvin runner, Hale has been a two-time first team All-MIAA selection in cross country and a two-time Great Lakes All-Region choice. In 2008, Hale finished seventh at the MIAA Championships, 10th at the Great Lakes Regional meet and 88th at the NCAA III Championships.
Also returning from Calvin’s 2008 nationals team are seniors Liz Smit (Kirkland, WA/Bellevue Christian HS), Nicole Farr (Wheaton, IL/Warrenville South HS) and Mary Tolsma (Hawthorne, NJ/Eastern Christian HS).
Smit is a two-time All-MIAA first team selection and a two-time Great Lakes All-Region choice. She placed sixth at the 2008 MIAA Championships, 11th at the 2008 Great Lakes Regional meet and 127th at the 2008 NCAA III Cross Country Championships. A two-time MIAA champion in the 3,000 meter steeplechase in track and field, Smit is also a two-time qualifier for the NCAA III Outdoor Track and Field Championships. In addition, she was a member of Calvin’s All-America distance medley relay team at the 2008 NCAA III Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Farr was also a member of Calvin’s All-America distance medley relay team and like Smit, also specializes in the steeplechase in track and field, posting NCAA III provisional qualifying times in the event last spring. Farr placed 10th at the 2008 MIAA Cross Country Championships and later finished 22nd at the 2008 Great Lakes Regional meet to earn a spot on the Great Lakes All-Region team. She also placed 186th at the 2008 NCAA III Cross Country Championships.
Tolsma served as Calvin’s alternate at the 2008 NCAA III Cross Country Championships. She also placed ninth at the 2008 MIAA Championships and earned a spot on the All-MIAA second team. Tolsma also placed ninth at an MIAA jamboree earlier in the year. In addition, she earned a spot on the Great Lakes All-Region team by placing 30th at the Great Lakes Regional meet.
Other returning varsity letterwinners include senior Sarah Dugan (Freeland/Freeland HS), juniors Alison Tuuk (Grand Rapids/Grand Rapids Christian HS), Anna VanWyk (Dorr/South Christian HS), Gretchen Braymer (Erie, PA/Collegiate Academy), Kristen Fletcher (Fort Wayne, IN/Concordia Lutheran HS) and sophomores Kaitlin Diemer (Caledonia/South Christian HS), Rebecca Hiemstra (Dusseldorf, Germany/International School of Dusseldorf), Sarah Orndorff (Huron, OH/Huron HS) and Eva Kort (Colorado Springs, CO/Doherty HS).
Several members of the group are coming off of strong 2008 track and field campaigns. Braymer was an All-MIAA selection in track and field and a qualifier for the 2008 NCAA III Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the steeplechase. Tuuk had another stellar track and field season in the middle-distance events, clocking a sub 2:20 in the 800 meters. Diemer was also able to clock a sub 2:20 in the 800 meters last spring. Dugan meanwhile recorded an NCAA III provisional qualifying time in the 10,000 meter run. Hiemstra was another standout in track and field in the 800 and 1,500 meters. Van Wyk showed promise on the cross country side, placing 13th at the 2008 MIAA championships.
“One of the strengths of this year’s team is that we have quality depth,” said long-time assistant coach Al Hoekstra earlier this summer. “We have a big pack of individuals who are all capable of running in our top seven. You can never have enough quality depth on a cross country team. The unique thing with our program is that the depth that we have pushes everyone in front of them in a positive way. When everyone is pushing each other to be the best that they can be, it’s a huge bonus for a team.”
The incoming recruiting class is also a good one according to Hoekstra who serves as the recruiting coordinator for both the Calvin men’s and women’s cross country teams. “I think we have some newcomers that could be real surprises,” said Hoekstra. “It will be interesting to see how things pan out but even with a large group of veterans, I think there are opportunities for some of our newcomers to make an immediate impact.”
Diemer agrees. “I am really encouraged by some of the new runners entering our program,” said Diemer. “I would not be surprised to see some of them competing for some of the top spots on our squad.”
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.