By Josh Neuhart
Grace College Sports Information
WINONA LAKE – Grace’s cross country team is filled with youth. But the 2020 Lancers also have high hopes in what could be a very promising fall season.
The program is coming off one of its best NCCAA showings ever. The men’s team placed third at the 2019 NCCAA National Championships, tying the best finish in team history. The women were sixth, one spot away from a program record.
This year’s squad features 34 members across the men’s and women’s teams, a record for most runners in the program. Exactly half of the Lancers (17) are new to the cross country team this fall, meaning Grace will have a dramatically new look on the course.
Head coach Jake Poyner, now in his second season leading the program, was filled with optimism when speaking about the 2020 Lancers.
“It’s been awhile since we have been able to race, so we are excited for the season,” Poyner said. “I’ve witnessed a lot of character and heart on the team to overcome adversity over the past few months, and I expect this team to continue growing and pursuing excellence.”
Heather Plastow leads the women’s team, now in her third season. Plastow is coming off a breakout campaign, earning NCCAA All-American recognition after placing ninth in the 2019 NCCAA race.
Elizabeth Moore and Weslea Arthur gained valuable postseason experience during their freshman seasons, including racing in the 2019 NCCAA meet.
The men’s team was led by its underclassmen for much of the 2019 season. Many of those runners are back and armed with a year of experience.
Bryan Hernandez-Rios, Logan Rufenacht, Isaac Beatty, Dimitri Margaritidis, Zach Johnson and Dakota Thompson are part of a sensational sophomore class; the class was consistently in the top of Grace’s finishers in 2019.
Poyner was encouraged to have so many key runners back this fall. He was confident that Grace’s mix of returning leadership and incoming talent will be enough for the program to continue its trajectory of growth.
The women have seven true freshmen on the roster, and the men’s side has six. Mallory Hiatt and Tara Friesen on the women’s side and Macallister Cheek and Hayden Mullett for the men have impressed during the preseason, according to Poyner.
“We have seen a lot of growth in our returners over the past six months,” he said. “We are excited to see if we can take some big steps in the right direction this fall.”
But above all, Poyner maintains the primary focus of the season will be as much off the course as on it. Poyner wants the Lancers to develop “consistency, self-awareness and strong preparation processes.” And ultimately he wants Grace to keep their collective eyes focused on the mission of developing and sharing their faith.
“What we set our minds, hearts and eyes on is so crucial,” Poyner concluded. “Our eternal mission is a vision we want to dial in on throughout the fall.”
The Lancers’ first meet is Friday with the IWU Twilight Invitational.