By Sean Chase
President Bill Pink and Grand Rapids Community College staff members turned the hardwood of the Ford Field House into a celebration for the nationally ranked men’s and women’s cross country teams on Tuesday, Nov. 10.
The last stop for the teams, in what is already an incredible season, will be the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II National Championship meet in Fort Dodge, Iowa on Saturday, Nov. 14. Before they board their flight and head off to conquer the competition, GRCC felt they deserved recognition for their hard work.
“It means a lot and I appreciate that President Bill Pink and Associate Provost Tina Hoxie took time out of their busy schedules to visit the cross country teams ahead of our last practice before the national’s trip,” said Assistant Coach Sharon Becker. “I am thankful that GRCC’s administration has the health and safety of our community as their highest priority.”
Due to COVID-19 the fieldhouse wasn’t overflowing with exuberant students and community members. In front of a table piled high with plaques and trophies, Associate Provost Tina Hoxie took the microphone first to address the masked faces of the cross country teams and media.
After congratulating and thanking the athletes, Hoxie passed the microphone off to Pink. The GRCC President proceeded to pump some excitement into the room, giving a rousing speech calling back to his days as a college basketball player and the lifelong bond formed amongst athletes.
The event concluded with Assistant Coaches Sharon Becker and Garrett Lacy presenting Pink with a white polo shirt, with the Raider’s logo embroidered on the left chest, signed by all of the members of the cross country program.
The runners posed in front of the newest hardware added to the cross country program’s trophy case. The men’s and women’s Michigan Community College Athletic Association Conference Championship and the NJCAA Division II Region XII Championship, which they won after sweeping the competition in Lansing on Saturday, Oct. 31.
For many of the athletes, this was the first moment they had truly taken the time out of their grueling schedule to appreciate their success.
“This season has gone by so fast, I feel like we hadn’t really taken a moment to slow down and acknowledge our accomplishments,” said GRCC XC runner Audrey Meyering. “I was talking with the girls and we all basically said we didn’t realize how many awards and plaques we had taken home with us until they were all out on the table to look at.”
Once the runners completed interviews with WOOD TV 8, which aired after the event, it was time for their last practice to begin. While this is the last practice for the team’s, they know that they aren’t finished ‘carrying the piano’.
“When the season began, the second week of August, Coach Matt spoke to the team about a very heavy piano,” said Becker. “He explained that one person on our team cannot carry a piano on their own, but if we all help each other, then we can carry a piano all the way to Fort Dodge, Iowa!”
For the athletes, the event was a great chance for them to look back on their achievements without losing focus of what lays ahead.
“To be recognized with our own event with President Pink, the GRCC staff, and the news was more than we could ask for,” Meyering said. “This event really made all of our literal blood, sweat, and tears worth it. President Pink gave us a great speech and it made us all the more proud of what we have done for GRCC, and what we have yet to accomplish in Iowa.”
The women’s team is currently ranked fourth in the latest NJCAA poll, with the men’s team maintaining the eighth spot in the rankings. Confidence is high amongst the teams and on Saturday, they will put everything on the line for a National Championship.
“I feel confident that we will do better than what we have already done,” said GRCC XC runner Joshua Kipkoech. “Because we have been preparing for nationals since day one of our practices. We are ready, and hoping for good results.”