Leafs News
2017-18 PREVIEW: Young Maple Leafs Look To Continue 2016's Improvement
News Photo
Women's Cross Country - Fri, Sep. 8, 2017

Goshen College Women's Cross Country
2016: Results | Record Book
2017: Roster | Schedule

GOSHEN, Ind. — The 2016 Goshen College women's cross country team finished two spots higher in the Crossroads League than their 2015 counterparts. At the season-ending conference meet, Chelsea Foster turned in the program's best individual time since 2014. Foster and Nora Rangel each finished that race in less than 20 minutes, the first time a Maple Leaf pair had done that since Laura Harnish and Rachael Baker in the 2007 NAIA Region VIII meet.

Despite that improvement, the team's 2017 goals are higher.

Goshen hasn't had an all-conference runner since Harnish in 2008: with a fourth-place finish at the Mid-Central College Conference championship that fall, she's also the program's last national qualifier.

Like nine of Goshen's other 12 varsity teams, the Maple Leaf women have never gone to nationals—the 1992 squad won the conference but finished second to then-independent Taylor in District 21, while the 2002 team was the highest-ranked school that didn't receive an at-large berth.

A jump from eighth in the league to one of the nation's elite groups would certainly be a stretch, but third-year head coach Rustin Nyce looks at his group of 10 runners—nine of whom are underclassmen— and sees potential before ceilings.

"I'd like to have an all-conference runner from our team, which hasn't happened in quite a while," Nyce said. "That and advancing our team place in the conference, seeing where we can end up in November, would be nice to see. I think our women have more goals this year than they've had in the past just by being more competitive in our conference."

"I'm looking forward to going further than we've ever gone this season," said senior Jill Steinmetz. "This year we have a lot of really great athletes and we are ready to do some real damage."

The 2016 team posted five personal bests at the CL championship and 15 total over the final three races of the year, with the team's entire top five cracking 21 minutes to close the season. While two seniors, Kayla Gray and Megan Graves, are gone, GC returns seven of its top eight finishers from the conference meet.

"One of the challenges this year is that I'm the only upperclassman," Steinmetz said. "We're a young team, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a weakness. I think we're also a very strong squad."

"I think we're all a good group of girls that can push each other and face those challenges together," added Foster. "I'm really looking forward to seeing how all of the new girls do on the team. We have three incoming freshmen and I'm really excited to see what they do, but I'm also excited to see what the rest of the team does. We put in a lot of work over the summer and I think we're going to see it pay off during the year."

The Maple Leafs' trio of incoming freshmen includes three Elkhart County products, with Sierra Ross Richer (who was home-schooled) and Ariana Perez Diener (a Goshen High School graduate) coming directly from high school in the only GC sport where the length of competition doesn't change between high school and college. Mackenzie Porter, a Concord product who attended Saint Joseph's College last year but did not compete, rounds out the team.

Along with Foster, who attended Mount Vernon High School in central Indiana, another local runner topped the Leafs' charts in all six races last fall: Goshen product Nora Rangel finished either first or second in every meet.

Last season's conglomeration included three upperclassmen, but that group also comprised a transfer and a first-year collegiate cross country runner. So while Nyce may have to dig deeper to find leadership, his 2017 group arguably brings more history to the table.

"I'm looking forward to the women that are returning making steps in their times, their leadership and (their continued) understanding of how collegiate cross country works," Nyce said. "I'm looking forward to introducing our new group to our team. It's helping our team grow and be more competitive."

"Jill and Chelsea are our team captains and they're our leaders because they're a little bit more vocal than some of the others and they're not afraid to be assertive when I need them to be assertive," the coach continued. "They'll be key leaders for us, both in the locker room and on the course as well. We have one senior and then the other 90 percent of the team is sophomores and freshmen, so that will be a challenge for us. But again, growing pains are good to have."

Incidentally, Nyce was a senior on the men's team in 2002, when the women achieved a national ranking of no. 16 that would stand as the best mark ever by a GC women's team until 2015.

"That place we gained last year was really big for us, so to advance even more would be even bigger," Foster said. "We're definitely looking forward to doing that. Beyond that, (goals include) improving times, being more competitive, going out there and racing against the other runners, and improving ourselves along the way."

"We each came up with individual goals and goals for our season, so there are lots of ways to measure those in many different respects," concludes Steinmetz. "We hope to check in with each other and reach a lot of those."

Cross country is perhaps the most literal athletic interpretation of Ernest Hemingway's observation that "it is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end." In short, for the 2017 Maple Leafs, it's not how they start or even how they finish, but how they get there.

Goshen opens its season Friday evening at the Indiana Wesleyan Twilight Classic. A week later, the team goes to Marian University for the Crossroads League preview meet at Northview Church in Carmel—the result of a late schedule change means that GC will not compete at the Indiana Intercollegiate meet hosted by Purdue University.

After a week away from competition, the Maple Leafs make their longest and shortest road trips of the season six days apart, visiting the Louisville Sports Commission Cross Country Classic in Kentucky on Sept. 30 and the Bethel College Invitational in Mishawaka on Oct. 6.

The NAIA Great Lakes Invitational, which includes many of the schools that participated in that Region VIII meet from 2001-07, rounds out the regular season on Saturday, Oct. 21, with the conference championship meet at Marian on Nov. 4.

The Crossroads League team champion qualifies for nationals, as do the top nine schools in the nation out of the 169 that do not receive automatic berths. The top four individuals from the conference that are not on qualifying teams advance as individuals. Vancouver, Washington, plays host to the national meet on Saturday, Nov. 18.