By Sean Chase
The Grand Rapids Community College Cross Country teams went to the Jayhawk Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 17, in Muskegon hoping to have a strong showing against the stiffest competition they have faced all season and they did not disappoint, as two freshmen, Joshua Kipkoech and Audrey Meyering stood out, forever etching their names in the GRCC Cross Country record books.
The teams finished first among all Michigan Community College Athletic Association competition, with the women coming in third overall, and the men placing fourth overall.
“Having one of your key contributors out and still having everybody else pick up the slack and step up their efforts, even more so than they normally would, was really good to see,” said Head Coach Matt Sicilia. “To have somebody out like that, and still be the top team in the conference in that (men’s) race was encouraging too.”
Prior to the invitational, both GRCC cross country teams were recognized, in the most recent National Junior College Athletic Association’s coaches poll, as the women moved up one spot to fourth, and the men moved up two positions to eighth in the nation.
Kipkoech was the first runner across the finish line for the GRCC men’s team in the 8k race, with a time of 25:22, ninth overall, recording the fastest time in the program’s history. In the women’s 5k, Audrey Meyering crossed the line first for the GRCC women’s team. Coming in at 15th overall, with a time of 20:06, marking a career best for her, as well as, being the third fastest 5k mark all time for the GRCC women’s cross country program.
Ideal weather conditions mixed with a pristine racing surface, on Saturday, allowed many of the athletes to turn in season best times. “There was about a 15 to 20 mile per hour head wind, straight out of the South, so that did slow things down a little bit,” said Sicilia. “Although, the weather other than that was pretty much perfect.”
Also competing for the GRCC men’s team was Jack Kehoe with a time of 27:33, Lance Jourdan at 28:19, Gabriel Sanchez at 28:58, Noah Peterson at 29:10, Ashton Brennan at 29:20, Devin Simon at 30:11, Cesar Vargas at 32:22, Rafael Vega at 33:08, and Joseph Williams at 38:48. Wilson Ishimwe, one of the team’s top runners, didn’t compete to rest a nagging leg injury.
The women’s runners were Kiah Becker, 20th overall, with a time of 20:30, Carolanne Merlington at 20:42, Elizabeth Meyering at 21:23, Kathryn De Leeuw at 21:27, Allison Hoop at 21:35, Breeana Bonnema at 22:42, Alexzandria Webster at 22:57, Paige Bodine at 23:11, Mariah Vos at 23:32, Angelis Stewart at 24:22, Jennifer Franz at 27:40, and Ely Horling at 29:29.
The GRCC teams and coaching staff now turn their attention to an intrasquad time trial, where the men will run a 5k, while the women compete in a two mile race, being held on Friday, Oct. 23.
“Champions don’t quit when halfway through a race if/when they realize a personal best time or top 20 finish isn’t possible,” said Assistant Coach Sharon Becker, in a press release. “You are a champion, when you feel like quitting or feel like feeling sorry for yourself, but despite your feelings, you do the best you can to persevere to the very end.”
Due to recent changes implemented because of COVID-19, the teams are only allowed to travel with seven runners to the Regional and National events. This intra-squad time trial, along with the results from Saturday’s race, will decide the final seven-runner squad for each team.
The team’s next official race is at the MCCAA and NJCAA Region XII championships in Lansing, on Saturday, Oct. 31, a course that many of the runners have seen before.
“The sophomores, having run on the course already, have a visual in their mind of where everything is at, and at what point in the race they are, that should help,” said Sicilia. “I really encourage them to share that wisdom with the freshmen. We always get to the course at least an hour or so ahead of time, so we have a chance to walk around and get our bearings a little bit.”
While prior knowledge of the course does help, the coaches know that even the best laid plans fall through.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen until you get out there, and see what the other people are doing around you,” said Sicilia. “We have our game plan, and they try to execute that as much as possible, but you can’t predict what people from other schools are going to do. We have to react, to a certain degree, to the pace of the race and the competition.”
After the Regional competition in Lansing, the GRCC cross country teams will head to Fort Dodge, Iowa on Nov. 14, for the NJCAA Division II National Championships.