Leafs News
2017-18 PREVIEW: Maple Leaf Men Seek To Better Six Straight First-Division Finishes
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Men's Cross Country - Fri, Sep. 8, 2017

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

GOSHEN, Ind. — Compare the 2017 Goshen College men's cross country roster to the roster from any of the past four seasons and a difference will quickly stand out. Ryan Smith, the program's first NAIA All-American and four-time national qualifier, graduated after running 14 of the top 22 times in program history. His collegiate coaching career officially started last weekend as an assistant at the University of Maine-Farmington, where the Beaver men took third and the women second in their own invitational.

Some 1,019 miles west, the Maple Leafs start their season Friday evening at Indiana Wesleyan University. From there, it was another 605 miles west to Lawrence, Kansas, when Goshen took its team to nationals in 2014. If GC sends one or more athletes to nationals this fall, something that's happened in each of the last six years, the journey will cover about 1,700 miles more to Vancouver, Washington.

And while in one sense an heir apparent might be at hand—Steven Cranston also qualified for nationals and earned all-conference honors with an eighth-place finish at last year's conference meet—the 2017 Maple Leafs won't try to build Rome (or Vancouver) in a day.

"I'm looking forward to watching younger runners develop and being part of a foundation for the future," said senior Isaiah Friesen. The Beatrice, Nebraska, native is the lone remaining member of the 2014 national squad after taking a redshirt season last fall to study abroad. "We have a lot of potential there. We're looking for two, maybe three, who knows, maybe even four all-conference runners."

Following the conference meet last November 8 at Indiana Wesleyan in which Smith set a new school record, Goshen said goodbye to four of its top six runners: along with Smith, Luke Graber, Daniel Klink and Luke Kaufman each exhausted their eligibility, leaving Juan Perez and Brenner Burkholder as the only top-seven runners to join Cranston and a returning Friesen this fall.

"I'm looking forward to a lot of the youth we brought in and to see how they develop," said third-year head coach Rustin Nyce, the lone GC alumnus among the department's head coaches. "I'm also looking to add the leadership in that we have coming back and see how the dynamic from the team works together."

Nyce welcomes in two local freshmen, Irving Suarez of Goshen High School and Salvador Escamilla of Concord. That duo is joined by Brandon Roe from Lancaster Mennonite High School in Pennsylvania and Quinton Read, whose hometown of Newberg is one Oregon county away from Cranston's native Canby. Junior Gerardo Abad, another Goshen alum transferring from Saint Joseph's College, and sophomore Vincent Kibunja, a transfer from Monroe College in New York, rounds out the incoming student-athletes, while senior Benjamin Wiebe will run for the first time in college.

Our team is young, so there's going to be some growing pains along the way, I'm sure," Nyce said. "We have some good leadership in place to help ease that burden. Youth can be a challenge, but it's also kind of a nice challenge to have."

"Isaiah Friesen is one of the men returning that I'm leaning heavily on for leadership," Nyce continued. "As far as key runners, Steven Cranston is one. He made nationals as a freshman last year and we look for more improvement this year. We have some freshmen coming in, Quinton and Salvador especially, that will do well for us—Vincent Kibunja's coming in as well—so we're looking for them to contribute to our team."

"I'm looking forward to being competitive in every meet that we run at and also being competitive within ourselves," said sophomore Ryan Haggerty, who set two personal bests in the last three races a year ago. "We have a really great energy that we've brought to every practice so far and I really think that we can bring that to every practice and every meet this season."

"I think we know we have a lot of potential," Friesen said. "This is, safe to say, the highest level of overall fitness that any team I've been on has brought with all of us into the fall. But it's a long season. We have to remember it's a long season and keep the long run in mind."

"Running's an injury-prevention game, so keeping everyone healthy is always a challenge that's almost impossible," expounded Haggerty. "(But) with any luck, we'll all be able to stay strong throughout the whole year. As for experience, I think that could be something that we really struggle with at first, but we have great senior leadership and a good coach who can (both) help the younger runners get through that."

For a team that's finished in the top half of the conference in six straight seasons and sent more than a dozen runners to nationals in that span, both Nyce and his athletes see improvement as a goal, and the bar of late has been set at a trip—in this case, to metropolitan Portland—the week before Thanksgiving.

"We'd like to advance our place in conference last year—we were fifth and we'd like to be at least one step ahead of that this year," Nyce said. "Ultimately our goal is to see how close we can get to being competitive nationally."

"I think we all really want to make nationals," Haggerty said. "But just being able to look back at the season and have no regrets, being able to say that we gave everything we have, is a really good goal for us."

Along with 26 automatic qualifiers—including the Crossroads League team champion—and the next nine at-large teams in the NAIA coaches poll, the top four CL runners whose teams don't reach Vancouver will qualify as individuals.

After the season-opening Twilight Classic this weekend at Indiana Wesleyan, the Maple Leaf men have opted to eschew the Indiana Intercollegiate meet next weekend at Purdue in favor of the Crossroads League preview meet hosted by Marian University on the conference championship course at Carmel's Northview Church.

GC will visit Louisville, Kentucky, for the Louisville Sports Commission Cross Country Classic on Sept. 30 and the Bethel College Invitational in Mishawaka on Oct. 6. The regular season ends with the NAIA Great Lakes Invitational at Aquinas College in Michigan two weeks later before the Crossroads League championship on Nov. 4.