The Grand Rapids Community College men’s cross country team and Hannah Jefferis of the women’s team competed in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Cross Country National Championship on Saturday at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course in Garden City, Kansas and had a strong showing.
Jefferis, a freshman at GRCC, was the only member of the women’s team to qualify for nationals and competed as a solo act in the race. She finished 70th overall, and sixth among Michigan Community College Athletic Association runners with a time of 21:15.8.
GRCC cross country head coach Matt Sicilia talked about Jefferis’ performance in the race and said even though it wasn’t statistically her best race, she saved her good stuff for the end of the season.
“She saved her best performance for last, even though it wasn’t her fastest time of the season,” Sicilia said. “We were kind of hoping for top 100, so to be 70th – that’s well ahead of kind of what one of our goals was for the race. She paced it just about perfectly, moved up nicely the second half of the race, passed almost 15 people.”
Men’s runner Trystan Thayer also took a moment to brag on Jefferis and said she’s taken everything in stride this year and has continued to get better.
“She had a great day on Saturday,” Thayer said. “She had… I think the second highest finish in (GRCC) girl’s history on Saturday at nationals… She has been performing well all season and she definitely has what it takes to…succeed. She’s been very positive all season despite… I think at the beginning of the year, she was going to be the only girl on the team, and then we got a few others and she embraced them.”
With Jefferis’ race in the books, it was time for the men’s team to take center stage. The men’s team had faced quite a bit of adversity the week leading up to the race. One of the team’s runners dropped a class and was unaware it would make him academically ineligible and was unable to compete.
“In the couple weeks leading up to nationals, if you could draw up a plan how to set yourself up for failure, so many of those things happened,” Sicilia said. “We had one of our runners become ineligible who was scoring for us all year, couldn’t even make the trip to nationals, so we lost Leo (Walquist).”
It was bad enough to lose Walquist to ineligibility, but two other Raiders had their own battles to fight in preparation of nationals.
“We had two of our top four get sick,” Sicilia said. “Dallas Mora and Matt Spees both were hacking up a lung from Monday or Tuesday of last week all the way including nationals. So they were not even close to their best, but to their credit, they totally bought into… our mantra going into the race…’whatever happens, happens, it’s out of our control. You can control your effort and whatever you have this day, give the best of what you have right now.’”
Once the race got underway, it was the usual suspects doing damage for the Raiders. Sam Borisch along with Thayer set the tone and led the way for GRCC. Borisch finished first amongst MCCAA runners with a time of 27:20.7 while Thayer finished second with a time 27:42.2.
Borisch accomplished something that has never been done by a GRCC runner. The top 40 runners at nationals receive a prestigious award and his 36th overall finish gave him an All-American award.
Borisch was proud of his team and echoed Sicilia’s sentiments about the obstacles that had to be overcome in this race.
“Everybody really gave it their all, I mean really there was just a huge, huge show of guts from everybody,” Borisch said. “It was probably not ideal conditions running-wise, even the lead pack, everyone ran about a minute and a half slower than their usual race times. So with windy conditions, very hilly course, it was definitely very difficult… we were missing some guys, we had some sickness and regardless of that, everyone was able to kind of suck it up and give it one last go.”
Borisch reflected back on the season and talked about how much he enjoyed this team and thanked them for being great teammates.
“This year was probably my favorite team I’ve ever run on ever,” Borisch said. “There’s a bunch of great guys and girls. I think we did a good job pushing everyone to hit some really good PR’s (personal records). Trystan and I going back and forth trying to break the 8K record, and I think without this team behind me, I don’t feel like I could’ve gotten All-American.”
Thayer had many goals before the season started and reached many of them this year. He couldn’t be happier with how this season ended up for he and the Raiders.
“I think it’s been a great year for all of us,” Thayer said. “Going into it, my goals were you know to get a lot faster personally and to finish higher at nationals as a team than we did last year, you know, break the school record at least once… we kind of went through all of that… just looking back at what I had in mind from the beginning of the year, I think it all played out really well.”
There was a lot for Sicilia to be proud of as a coach, and he wanted to make sure that his team knew just how proud of them he is, and how appreciated they are.
“The biggest thing was we supported each other, and we stayed together through thick and thin and through the trials,” Sicilia said. “They never wavered with their work ethic and their support for one another and this is the most proud of a team that I’ve ever been as a coach at any level over the last 16 years of coaching.”
Overall the Raiders finished 20th out of 36 teams with an average time of 29:50 which was six spots higher than the team’s finish at the 2017 nationals. In addition to Borisch being named All-American, he and Thayer were both named All-Region and All-Conference while Mora received an All-Region nod as well. Jefferis was the only runner from the women’s team to get an award as she joined Borisch and Thayer in receiving both the All-Region and All-Conference awards.