WINONA LAKE — For the first time since 2010, Grace’s cross country team will have a new coach leading the team.
Jake Poyner, a Warsaw graduate, will coach the Lancers in 2019 for his first season. Jeff Raymond transitioned into a new position as Grace’s Director of Cross Country and Track and Field starting this school year.
Poyner has high hopes for the Lancers this fall as he seeks to place his imprint on the program.
Grace has a young team with only three seniors combined across the men and women — Ben Rankin, John Marhefka and Jessica Zvers. Rankin starred for the men last season, earning All-Crossroads League recognition and qualifying for the NAIA National Championships.
On the women’s side, the Lady Lancers were led by Carmen Trier during her freshman season.
But despite the youth of the Lancers, Poyner maintained that Grace had talent to compete at a high level.
“I am extremely excited for what lies ahead of us. We have young teams that have a lot of potential for growth and development,” he said.
One of Poyner’s focuses is to develop a strong team culture, particularly one that emphasizes the importance of each individual member. Poyner wants every runner to “understand the profound impact each one has on the greater whole.”
For Grace to reach its potential, Poyner insisted that the team needs to be challenged and pushed. He hopes to help establish a mantra of toughness within the team that encompasses the spiritual, mental, emotional and relational areas of each runner.
“We must develop true grit and toughness to reach our potential in races. It’s the discipline to more consistently make the right decisions under uncertainty and distress,” Poyner said. “A team cannot improve unless it is challenged, so we certainly plan to push this group in the light of pursuing excellence.”
Grace’s newcomers are ripe with talent. Five new women will represent the Lady Lancers this year. Weslea Arthur, Kaelyn Johnson and Mallory Aker will contribute right away, according to Poyner. Elizabeth Moore and Lindsey Pope are recovering from injury but will seek to make an impact this fall.
On the men’s side, Poyner believes that all six incoming freshmen could contribute, depending on how they adapt to the collegiate 8k racing distance. Isaac Beatty, Bryan Hernandez-Rios, Zach Johnson, Dimitrios Margaritidis and Dakota Thompson are all newcomers from Indiana, and Logan Rufenacht is from Pettisville, Ohio.
“All of our freshmen are attentive to details, and they are passionate about creating a culture of excellence,” Poyner said.
Overall, Poyner wants the Lancers to aim for four team goals — to be holistically healthy as individuals, perform at their peak during the postseason, enjoy the journey and improve as men and women in their spiritual walk with Jesus.
“It’s been such a humbling and exciting gift for me to be able to lead these teams; to use distance running as a vessel for strengthening, sharpening and preparing young adults,” Poyner said. “I’m deeply honored to build authentic relationships with these athletes and help them have transformative and positive life-changing experiences.”
The Lancers start the season on Friday with the Manchester Hokum Karem.