By Sean Chase
The Grand Rapids Community College cross country teams completed their outstanding season on Saturday, as both teams finished in the top 10 of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II National Championship race.
The women’s team finished the DII race in fourth place, the highest finish nationally in the history of the program, while the men’s team finished in ninth place overall. Many of the athletes turned in all-time personal best times, after attacking the grueling terrain of the Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
“The women just ran phenomenally well,” said Matt Sicilia, Head Coach of GRCC men’s and women’s XC teams. “They got out strong but under control, and they really showed a lot of heart and guts in the middle of the race when it’s the hardest. We were in sixth place as a team at the one mile marker, and by the two mile mark we had moved up into fourth. The girl’s just really moved up the whole race and finished like freight trains.”
Audrey Meyering was the first member of the GRCC women’s team to cross the finish line in the 5k race. She finished in eighth overall with a time of 19:51, smashing her previous best of 20:06 by 15 seconds, and earning NJCAA DII second-team All-American honors.
“I definitely felt overwhelmed for sure,” said Audrey Meyering.“I blew my old personal record out of the water from earlier this season. I expected to do well, but not that well. Accomplishing a goal for myself is rewarding in itself, let alone being an All-American. Achieving the title of All-American was something I didn’t even consider until we were going over the awards booklet in Iowa.”
Joshua Kipkoech was the first member of the GRCC men’s team to cross the finish line in the 8k race, fifth place overall, with a time of 25:28. He ended his remarkable season, by earning NJCAA DII first-team All-American honors after his performance at the National Championship race.
The Collegiate reached out to Kipkoech, however, he was unavailable to comment at this time.
Also competing for the women’s team was Kiah Becker, 16th overall, with a time 20:09, smashing her previous best time in college, earning NJCAA Coaches Association All-American honors, Elizabeth Meyering at 20:53, breaking her previous best college time, Carolanne Merlington at 21:12, Kathryn De Leeuw at 21:19, Allison Hoop at 21:53, Alexzandria Webster at 22:13, achieving a new personal best.
“For that many of the girls to run their very best, on the most important race is just a smashing success for that team,” said Sicilia.“They really let it all hang out there. If you add up all of the times of our top five runners, it broke the school record by almost a minute.
The men’s runners were Jack Kehoe with a time of 27:54, Gabe Sanchez at 28:12, achieving a new personal best, Noah Peterson at 29:06, Ashton Brennen at 29:07, a career best time, Devin Simon at 29:43, a career best time.
A few weeks ago, before the Michigan Community College Athletic Association Regional Championship, the men’s team lost a prominent runner due to academic reasons.
“This was by far our best overall team performance of the year,” said Sicilia. “Having some of our key contributors, early in the season, not with us and to still be a top 10 team in the nation is just a minor miracle. We were ecstatic about that.”
On Friday before the National Championship, the NJCAA conducted the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Regional Awards presentation virtually due to COVID-19.
At this event the GRCC cross country program brought home more hardware, as Audrey Meyering and Joshua Kipkoech were named USTFCCCA Great Lakes Region Athletes of the Year. And Head Coach Matt Sicilia also received USTFCCCA Great Lakes Region Men’s and Women’s Coach of the Year honors.
“This was something I just did not expect because to me I went out this season to continue to run and just do what I love,” said Audrey Meyering. “Achieving any title this season was just not in my mental playbook. To me this honor was another reminder to keep continuing to do what I love, and to keep getting after it.”
Now the athletes and coaching staff turn their attention to the offseason, as the coaching staff continues to work with the runners and recruit new talent for the program. The increase in COVID-19 numbers recently, may hinder their ability to meet as a team and assess off-season training plans.
“We’re gonna, hopefully, get together as a group sometime in the next couple of weeks, and talk about winter training and spring training,” said Sicilia. “Of course we are going to have to be mindful of what the effects of the virus are right now. It might just be them running on their own. Hopefully, we can get together a few days a week to train in the offseason and get them some track and road races, which we like to do the rest of the year.”