WINONA LAKE – The Grace College cross country team is ready to build on its success from last season, thanks to an arsenal of experienced runners.
The Lancers, under head coach Jeff Raymond, hope to blend their veteran upperclassmen with talented newcomers for the 2016 season.
“Overall we have several people coming back from injuries and nine new athletes, so it’s difficult to know exactly where we’ll stand as a team,” Raymond said. “But we are all excited to get the season started. There is a lot of potential on this team.”
The 2015 women’s season was highlighted by Grace’s representation at the NAIA National Championships, when Katelyn McCullough qualified as an individual.
Although McCullough has graduated, the women still return five girls who have previously run in the squad’s top seven. Additionally, six new freshmen will battle for one of the top seven spots.
Raven Arellano enjoyed a memorable freshman track season, winning the 5000-meter race at the Crossroads League Championships. She is poised to be an All-League runner, according to Raymond.
Sophomore Karla Singer showed tremendous improvement last year and made strides during summer training for Grace. Junior Emma Mitchell and sophomore McCallah Mast also should push for a top-seven position.
Freshmen Brigit Nemitz (Whitko High School) and Alison Coleman (Waynesville, Ohio) have impressed Raymond in preseason so far and can contribute immediately. Brooke Smith (Springfield, Ohio) and Payton Schatz (Hebron) are also freshmen to watch for the Lady Lancers.
The key for the women lies in pushing their individual limits. The squad hopes to take the leap into the top half of the league this fall. “We have a very good group, but we will need at least a couple of the women to step forward and not be satisfied with where they are at,” Raymond said. “We have to continue pushing each other every week.”
On the men’s side, seniors Brandon Smith and Hunter Reed will look to lead the team. Nathan Lane, back from a season-ending injury last year, has potential to be Grace’s top runner.
Additionally, junior Tyler Houvener and sophomores Joel Bertelsen, Brendan Hamilton and Sam Hall ran strong as underclassmen and provide Grace a deep roster.
For the newcomers, Ben Rankin (Columbus North) comes to Grace from one of the top running programs in Indiana and placed in the state’s top 50 individually. Ryan Price (NorthWood) lowered his times dramatically late in his high school career and can contribute right away.
Raymond’s goal for the men is to get into the top five of the league. Four CL teams reached NAIA Nationals in 2015, so Raymond wants the Lancers to challenge the top group.
In order to hit that goal, Raymond said the men need to have the confidence to run with the top teams. “The talent is there, but they have to believe that they can accomplish it,” he said.
Overall, Grace’s cross country team will take a long-term approach to the season. With several runners gaining strength after injuries and a large number of newcomers, the Lancers will look to peak late in the season.
“The key for us this year will be patience. I don’t think we’ll start off with a bang, but I know we have the talent to perform well when it really counts in November,” he said. “We have to stress continued hard work early on and not just focus on results. The results will come.”
The Lancers will start their season with the Northwest Classic in Westville, Ind., on Aug. 26.