The course for the past two NAIA National Championships, a 2k loop (repeated four times) zig-zags through giant pine trees and included a number of sharp turns and uphill inclines to test the nations best. With rainy weather extremely common in the Northwest, a soft and increasingly muddy path also challenged every runner. For Kirwa and Smeltzer, an additional challenge was running as a pair instead of a team, making their typical routine slightly different.
One of the other notable lessons for Kirwa and Smeltzer was the size of the field. Apart from the Great Lakes Invitational in Grand Rapids (Mich.), the Maple Leafs have not competed in many events with near the 32-team, 100 additional runner fields like nationals presents. With massive packs making for tight turns, the style of running takes some getting used to.
"It was a very challenging course," admitted Kirwa who had also began to recognize the details that go into taking the next step competitively. "We need to work even harder and realize that every practice and every stretch has a purpose."
Initially upset he didn't perform as well as his Goshen College freshman record performance at the MCC Championships, Smeltzer also immediately turned his attention to the future. "Getting pushed around and dealing with so many different conditions is something we can get better at with practice," he said. "We can easily take 30 seconds off our times here and we now know what we need to work on and how to improve to be back and perform even better next year."
In additional to the upcoming track season, Kirwa and Smeltzer now turn their attention to those lessons in hopes of returning to Vancouver next November with the goal of bringing more of their teammates with them.
Also on Saturday, a total of eight Maple Leaf men's and women's cross country members were officially named NAIA Scholar-Athletes. To be selected, student-athletes have to be a junior or senior academically, have a cumulative grad point average of at least 3.5 and been enrolled at their institution for a minimum of a year. Goshen's award winners were Josh Delp, Jake GunderKline, Lydia Alderfer, Hannah Bartel, Karla Folker, Erin Helmuth, Leah Thill, and Alita Yoder.