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Calvin Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Recap from NCAA III Championships

Saturday, November 17, 2007

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NORTHFIELD, MN—Calvin’s bid for a national championship in men’s or women’s cross country on Saturday came up a few places short on Saturday at the NCAA III Championships hosted by St. Olaf College as both teams took fourth place.

In the women’s 6K race, second-ranked Calvin posted a fourth place score of 199 points with top-ranked Amherst of Massachusetts winning with a team score of 1290 points with Plattsburgh State (NY) second (159) and Washington University (MO) third (194).

In the men’s 8K race, top-ranked Calvin slipped to fourth place with a team score of 214 points, finishing seven points ahead of Wisconsin-LaCrosse for the final trophy slot. Second-ranked New York University, last year’s runner-up, captured the national championship with a total of 128 points with Haverford second (150 points) and Cortland State of New York third (158 points).

Tyler Sigl of Wisconsin-Platteville won the men’s individual title with a first place time of 24:24.

The Calvin men produced three All-America performances but could had a gap of 97 places between its fourth and fifth runner, preventing the Knights from repeating as national champions.

Claiming All-America berths for the Calvin men’s team were senior Tad Hulst (Zeeland HS) in 23rd place (25:06), junior Jed Christiansen (Greenville, PA) in 33rd place (25:10) and junior Erik VanKampen (Elmhurst, IL) in 35th place (25:11). The top 35 finishers at the NCAA III Championships are All-Americans.

Calvin’s fourth man was senior Jon Gries (King of Prussia, PA) in 50th (25:25) with junior Nate DeHaan (South Christian HS) 146th (26:03), senior Dan VandenAkker (South Christian HS) 161st (26:08) and junior Tim Langenberg (Grand Ledge HS) in 188th (26:18).

“We had a difficult time with the opening pace of the race,” said Calvin head cross country coach Brian Diemer of the men’s race. “The course was firm and hard and that made for a very quick pace. Our guys went out about 30 seconds faster than I would have hoped and even after the first 200 meters, I could tell that we were in some trouble. Once you get into the wrong position at a national race, it’s hard to get positive momentum back.

Diemer also had words of congratulations for New York University. I do want to congratulate New York University for a tremendous performance. They rose to the challenge and I tip my cap to their team.”

The fourth place finish did allow Calvin to extend its streak of top-four (trophy) national finishes to 10 years however, dating back to the 1998 national meet. “You can never underestimate the significance of a trophy
(top-four) national finish,” said long-time Calvin assistant coach Al Hoekstra. “I know Nate DeHaan might be a little disappointed with his finish but I told him that his ability to hang on at the end allowed our team to finish in the top four and hold off Wisconsin-LaCrosse. That is a significant accomplishment that should not be overlooked.”

Calvin’s three All-America performances were also significant as Christiansen earned the award for the third consecutive year while VanKampen did so for the second straight season. Hulst, meanwhile, became an All-American for the first time.

“I am proud of all three of those guys but particularly of Tad,” said Diemer.
“I know this was a long-standing goal for him and he ran a great race today
and accomplished that dream.”

According to Hulst, the All-America berth was bittersweet. “I don’t want to downplay the honor because it is something I was dreaming of doing for a long time but I would give up this award in a heartbeat if it meant that we could win a national championship,” said Hulst. The Calvin cross country program is not about individual accomplishments. Like Diemer, Hulst admitted that pace for Saturday’s race was a difficult one
to maintain. “The course was very fast,” said Hulst. “When the opening gun went off, everyone just flew and no-one was backing off. I think that took a little something out of us early in the race and it was tough to claw back.”

In the women’s race, Calvin did not have any All-Americans but did place five runners in the top 95. The Knights were led by senior Christina Overbeck (Seattle, WA) who was 37th (22:19) while sophomore Jessica Koster (Grand Rapids Christian HS) was 49th (22:30).

Right behind Koster was junior Calah Schlabach (St. Michael’s, AZ) in 52nd place (22:31) followed by junior Jesi Hale (Rehoboth, NM) in 83rd (22:51), junior Lauren Bergstrom (Century, MN) in 92nd (22:55), senior Lynn Marsh (Vernon, IN) in 115th (23:05) and sophomore Elizabeth Smit (Seattle, WA) in 122nd (23:07).

Sarah Zerzan of Willamette repeated as national champion, winning with a time of 20:54.

“I’m proud of the way our team ran,” said Diemer. “We were hoping for a top-four national finish and we accomplished that goal. We’ll return six of our top seven runners for next year as well so I think the future is bright with this team. I also want to congratulate Amherst on their national championship. They had a terrific performance this afternoon.”

A big positive for the team throughout the season was its depth said Diemer. “The women’s team is really starting to build,” said Diemer. “Our next challenge is to develop some more front-runners so that we can create more push at the top and that will come. I am confident of that.”

In looking at the sum of the entire season, Diemer was also pleased. “Both of our teams had terrific seasons and they have a lot to be proud of,” said Diemer. “The one thing that this national meet did show to us was that you have to keep striving and you can’t be satisfied if you want to rise to the top. It’s a big nation with over 400 teams with a lot of great runners. To win at nationals is a big challenge.”

Hoekstra also stated that the combined set of finishes was a significant one for Calvin. “We were the only school here that had both of its teams finish in he top four and that is a significant accomplishment,” said Hoekstra. “Sure we would have liked to have placed higher, but it still was a great day for Calvin cross country.”

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