By Sean Chase
On Saturday, Oct. 31, the Grand Rapids Community College cross country teams swept the competition, as both teams brought home a Michigan Community College Athletic Association Championship and a National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region XII Championship.
“It feels great, it’s kinda been one of our goals, on the season goal checklist, from day one this year,” said Matt Sicilia, GRCC Cross Country Head Coach, who has been at the helm since 2014. “Lansing has been the gold bearer for our conference for a long time. On the one hand, it was sad to see them not have a season this year. Particularly, with our women, I think we would have given them a run for their money, had they even had a season.”
Bringing the first Conference and Regional Championships back to Grand Rapids since the men’s and women’s programs restarted in 2014. This is the fifth MCCAA and third Regional titles for the men’s team, and both are first for the women’s program. The team’s stepped up to the challenge, resulting in multiple runners receiving individual honors.
Freshman Audrey Meyering won the women’s 5k on Saturday, her second of the season, with a time of 20:21, earning the MCCAA Runner of the Year, NJCAA All-Region XII DII, All-MCCAA, MCCAA Freshmen of the Year, and MCCAA Freshmen team honors.
“I could not ask for a more motivating group of girls to run with,” said Audrey Meyering. “Every practice we challenge each other to do the best we can on any given day. Our biggest strength this season is working together. If one of us is having a bad race then we take it upon ourselves to pick up what they can’t and continue on.”
After an incredible performance in Lansing, Audrey Meyering was quick to heap praise on her teammates and the GRCC cross country coaching staff.
“Coach Matt is always there to make sure we have a plan for every meet, and Sharon makes sure to have motivating messages for us on every race day,” said Audrey Meyering. “They always meet our needs, and go above and beyond to make sure we succeed. Also I have to give a shout out to Kiah Becker for being an awesome leader on the team and for giving me the motivation to work harder.”
Joshua Kipkoech was the first across the line in the men’s 8k race, his fourth win of the season, coming in at 26:10, earning the MCCAA Runner of the Year, NJCAA All-Region XII DII, All-MCCAA, MCCAA Freshmen of the Year, and MCCAA Freshmen team honors.
The Collegiate reached out to Kipkoech, however, he was unable to comment at this time.
The women’s team dominated the competition finishing the meet with 39 points, 23 ahead of the second-place finisher, St. Clair County Community College. For the men’s team the margins were much smaller, finishing the meet with 67 points, only 6 points ahead of the runners-up, Jackson Community College.
“They (the women’s team) ran their best team race of the year, and really ran together and supported each other throughout,” said Sicilia. “It was awesome to see them really moving strongly in the second half of the race, finishing well, and representing the Raiders really, really well. I’m so proud of those girls.”
Also competing for the men’s team were Lance Jourdan, eighth overall, with a time of 28:21, Gabe Sanchez at 28:33, Noah Peterson at 28:53, Jack Kehoe at 29:55, Ashton Brennan at 30:45.
The women’s runners were Kiah Becker, sixth overall, with a time of 20:55, Elizabeth Meyering recorded a personal record at 21:17, finishing ninth overall, Carolanne Merlington at 21:23, 11th overall, Kathryn De Leeuw at 21:26, 12th overall, Allison Hoop at 22:02, and Paige Bodine at 23:59.
For the women’s team, Becker and Elizabeth Meyering received NJCAA All-Region XII DII and All-MCCAA honors after the races. Elizabeth Meyering also received All-MCCAA All-Freshman team honors. Merlington, De Leeuw, and Hoop all received NJCAA All-Region XII DII honors.
Jourdan, of the GRCC men’s team, received NJCAA All-Region XII DII, All-MCCAA, and All-MCCAA All-Freshmen honors. With Sanchez and Peterson earning NJCAA All-Region XII DII honors after the race.
The men’s team overcame seemingly insurmountable odds, as they entered the race on Saturday shorthanded, with one athlete contracting an illness and another being removed from the team due to academic reasons.
Throughout the season the GRCC cross country coaching staff has dealt with COVID-19 restrictions, while continuing to push their athletes to strive for greatness. Their efforts were rewarded on Saturday, when Head Coach Matt Sicilia won the NJCAA Region XII DII and MCCAA Coach of the Year Award.
“We always tell the runners that we can set up the path for them to succeed, but they have to take the steps themselves,” said Sicilia. “They can count on unforeseen twists, turns and hurdles that they will have to navigate on their own. Garrett (Lacy) and Sharon (Becker) have been instrumental in recruiting many of these talented runners, so there is really a lot of hard work by all that results in the teams’ success.”
The next and final step for the teams this season is the NJCAA DII National Championship race on Nov. 14, in Fort Dodge, Iowa.