Leafs News
PREVIEW: Watch Fastest Pair In Maple Leaf History Take On Nationals Saturday
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Men's Cross Country - Fri, Nov. 18, 2016

NAIA Men's Cross Country National Championship
Saturday, November 19 – 12:30 p.m. EST
Watch | Live Results

ELSAH, Ill. — For the seventh consecutive year and 14th time since 2000, the NAIA Cross Country National Championships welcome a Goshen College runner Saturday at the North Farm Cross Country Course.

For the 11th time in program history and fifth time in six years, more than one Maple Leaf has qualified.

But before 2013, no Goshen freshman had ever run faster than 25:37 for an eight-kilometer race. Before 2016, no Goshen runner of any class had ever broken the 25:00 barrier or qualified for nationals in four straight seasons.

Those time records fell, however, and Saturday morning the lack of a four-time qualifier does too.

Two weeks removed from all-Crossroads League honors earned with top-eight finishes at the conference meet, senior Ryan Smith and freshman Steven Cranston will represent the Maple Leafs at the highest level of NAIA cross country. The starting gun is scheduled to fire at 12:30 p.m. EST (11:30 a.m. local time) and the host American Midwest Conference will offer a live video stream of the race at NAIANetwork.com.

For Smith, the national race will mark the 23rd and final event he runs as a member of the Goshen College cross country team. The Albion, Indiana, native has broken the previous school record nine times: Mark Plank's 25:28 clocking from 1980 had stood for 33 years. Smith has finished in less than 26 minutes 14 times, or more than 60 percent of his races: no other Goshen runner has done it more than four times. At the 2015 national meet, he finished three places short of All-American status.

For Cranston, the national meet may not be capping off a career (at least not in 2016), but it does conclude one of the fastest freshman seasons in school history. The Canby, Oregon, native finished below 26:00 twice this year: only Smith, who did it four times, and Jordan Smeltzer had ever done that as freshmen. Cranston's fastest time of 25:34 was three seconds faster than Smeltzer's first-year record set in 2011—or it would have been, had Smith not matched or improved the mark three times in his own initial season.

Smith and Cranston have also established themselves as the fastest duo in school history twice over: at the Great Lakes Challenge, they lowered the fastest GC two-man time from 51:07 to 50:54 before shaving that further, to 50:15, at the conference meet. Smith has now been part of five of the six fastest duos in school history, with Cranston and Smeltzer the only other runners to appear on that list more than once.

With the help of senior Luke Graber, the duo became a trio and lowered GC's three-man record to 76:44 at the conference meet; the old 76:56 mark had stood since the NAIA District 21 event at Mounds State Park in Anderson in 1980.

Owing to the inherent variability of cross country courses, the national field is not seeded: Smith and Cranston will begin from the front two positions of box 44 on the starting line. If the meet had been seeded, Smith posted the second-fastest time of any NAIA conference meet when he turned in a 24:41.5 mark at the Crossroads League championship. This will be the first NAIA championship meet ever run at the North Farm course.

In addition to the 36 teams who qualified en masse, Goshen is one of 19 institutions sending multiple individuals to the men's national meet. All told, the field comprises 341 runners: as usual, however, only schools with five finishers will count in the team score.

The awards ceremony is set to begin at 2 p.m. Goshen time, some 90 minutes after the starting gun, with live results slated to be available at TRXCTiming.com. The top 30 finishers at nationals become All-Americans.