Before the start of this year’s season, the Northwestern men’s cross country team put together several goals it wanted to achieve. Among the goals was to be ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation, to win the Great Plains Athletic Conference meet and to qualify for nationals. The team crossed another of these goals off of its bucket list this past week by qualifying for nationals for the first time in at least 30 years.
As the season progressed, the team started to receive votes in the national poll. After a strong showing at the Roy Griak meet in Minneapolis, the men’s team cracked the top 25 in the national poll.
“We were on our way back from our practice at Oak Grove,” junior Caleb VanderBaan said when asked when he found out the team was ranked. “We were expecting to be ranked, but it was awesome to reach one of our goals. At the same time, however, we knew we were going to have to keep working to stay in the rankings with teams like Dordt constantly improving.”
As the season progressed, the team maintained its top 25 national ranking, climbing to No. 23 in the nation heading into the conference meet.
“There were two scenarios in which we could make nationals,” team captain Logan Hovland said. “We either needed to win the conference meet to receive an automatic bid or we needed to be ranked in the top 25, get second at conference and receive one of the 13 at-large bids.”
Morningside wound up winning conference with 44 points, and NW finished a close second with 64 points. Four NW runners placed in the top 15, earning all-conference honors.
Logan Hovland lead the Raiders, finishing seventh and covering the 8k course in 25:39. Close behind Hovland was sophomore Will Norris (10th, 25:41), senior Skyler Giddings (13th, 25:55) and freshman Hans Epp (15th, 25:57). Caleb VanderBaan rounded out NW’s top five placing 19th with a time of 26:13. This was the Raiders best finish in the GPAC.
“The guys performed at their peak at just the right time,” said junior Kyle Anderson. “It was fun to watch them do so well.”
Since the team didn’t place first, the waiting game began to see if they had made nationals. The day after the meet, the final national rankings were released, but it wasn’t until Monday that the team officially learned they had received one of the at large bids. This is the first time in a long time that the men’s cross country team has qualified for the national meet, which will be held in Lawrence, Kan. on Nov. 22.
“It is really cool to see how far the team has come from when I was a freshman,” Epp said. “Being in the bottom half of the GPAC, to now being nationally rated and on our way to the national meet. It’s hard to believe that its really true and I don’t think that it will finally sink in until we run at nationals.”
Four NW runners made all-conference honors for their efforts this season, which include Hovland, Norris, Giddings and Epp.
Also competing on Saturday, Nov. 8 was the women’s team placing eighth out of 11 teams and totaled 216 points. Leading NW was senior Amber Sandbulte who placed 34th with a 5k time of 19:29. Junior Kelley Thurman came in at 38th with a 19:38 split.