GOSHEN, Ind. – The starting gun fires on the Goshen College cross country season (men and women) tomorrow as they host the annual Goshen Hokum Karem.
The 2011 season was a highly successful one for the men's side, which finished just four points away from their first conference title since 1980. Despite coming up just short as a team, they still managed three all conference selections and put two men into the NAIA National Championship field, a feat last accomplished in 1983.
The best news for the Maple Leafs and ninth-year head coach Doug Yoder is that their entire top seven from 2011 return this fall. Last year's success, coupled with a largely returning roster, garnished four votes for Goshen in the preseason NAIA national poll.
The road to a potential conference title and taking the entire team to Vancouver (Wash.) for nationals is far from easy, however.
"Obviously, last year we were so close and didn't quite get there, but we are also realistic in knowing that a couple other teams that are significantly better than they were last year," Yoder explained. "Our work is definitely cut out for us."
A total of four former all conference selections will suit up for the Maple Leafs, including junior Andrew Witkowski (2010), junior Oscar Joses Kirwa (2011), sophomore Daniel Zelaya (2011), and Jordan Smeltzer (2011).
Kirwa has been slowed by an injury this fall, but seniors Billy Funk, Brock GunderKline, and Jake GuunderKline and sophomore Moses Kaelo help create a deep and fast pack. In their final three races of last year, the Leafs' top five were all within 1:18 of each other and the top seven within 1:40.
Yoder has beefed up the schedule to help prepare and expose his teams for competing towards the top of the Crossroads League and the hopes of national events.
On the women's side, the Maple leafs struggled in 2011, especially with staying healthy. Just four of 16 runners were available for all seven of their events last season and seven competitors missed at least two meets.
Despite the injuries, the women's side brings back a lot of experience. Junior Jenica Corbett (first four events) and sophomore Ali Hochstetler (final three events) were the top event finishers in 2011 for Goshen, which lost just two seniors to graduation.
"We are going to be much improved from last year," Yoder explained. "We had a great pack, but the pack was a bit slow. We have the capability of improving that quite a bit this year. I think we will move up a couple notches in the conference."
In addition to Corbett and a surging Hochstetler, the Leafs have a core of returners who are largely healthy now and have put in significant work this summer to prepare for a strong season. Included in the bunch are seniors Karla Folker, Erin Helmuth, Alita Yoder, and junior Audrey Thill.
Yoder is also excited about his recruiting class, which has two or three that he looks to immediately fit into the team's top seven and possibly five. Look for Northwood High School standout Cynthia Medina and Dalton, Ohio native Irene Schmid to be among those who have impact on the team right away.
The Eighth Annual Goshen Hokum Karem begins at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. The unique event has runners partner up and trade one-mile segments. Action will take place on the Goshen College Athletic Fields.