NORTH SIOUX CITY, S.D. – Spurred by the collegiate debut of a key freshman, the Concordia University Women’s Cross Country team stated its case as being one of the top 25 teams in the NAIA. The Bulldog women placed second out of a field of 13 teams in Saturday (Oct. 3)’s Briar Cliff Invitational. Meanwhile, the Concordia men finished sixth amongst 14 squads that paced the trail at Adams Nature Preserve in North Sioux City, S.D.
Head Coach Matt Beisel’s squads were in action for the fourth time this season and for the second week in a row. Heading into the meet, the Bulldogs owned official GPAC rankings of third on the women’s side and fourth on the men’s side.
“We knew we needed to make this a big effort because we had run slower courses,” Beisel said. “We had been placing well but didn’t have the times to catch the raters’ attention. I believe the training we’ve been doing was exactly what we needed to do. I had a lot of confidence in our preparation, but it still had to happen. It was better than I thought it was going to be. I was extremely pleased. I did more praying than I’ve ever done and lifted it up to God.”
It was no shock that sophomore Kylahn Heritage, the GPAC Runner of the Week, led the way for Concordia once again. She placed ninth among runners who counted towards the team scoring with a near personal best. It was the name that followed Heritage in the Bulldog lineup that was a bit of a surprise. In her first college meet, Davenport, Neb., native Rylee Haecker clocked a time of 18:43.22 and placed 22nd on the overall leaderboard.
With Haecker’s help, Concordia defeated 18th-ranked Morningside (third place) in a 2020 breakthrough performance. Beisel knew the potential Haecker had based on her time trials.
“She wasn’t expected to run cross country meets,” Beisel said of Haecker, who had mostly been prepping for track season. “But then last Friday she ran a 2:20.8 time trial in the 800, which was phenomenal. I thought she could run a pretty good 5k so she and I talked. She went out and blew everyone’s expectations away.”
The Bulldogs had an effective bunching in their top six that started with Heritage (18:32.60) and Haecker and continued with freshman Grace Reiman (18:44.35; 23rd), senior Lydia Cook (18:55.51; 25th), senior Sydney Clark (19:03.98; 31st – all-time best) and junior Abi DeLoach (19:11.40; 35th). Less than 30 seconds separated the team’s second through six competitors. Twenty-four runners represented the Concordia women at the meet.
Sophomore Camden Sesna is the clear-cut top runner for the Bulldog men through four meets. He again paced the team by completing the 8k in a PR of 26:04.63 (38th out of 186 total runners). Sesna has been the top Dawg at every meet this season. The remainder of the top five featured Jordan Lorenz (26:28.82; 52nd), freshman Calvin Rohde (26:42.01; 60th), sophomore Antonio Blaine (27:00.88; 68th) and sophomore Owen Dawson (27:26.91; 80th).
Next in line were Ethan Pankow (27:27.54), Ethan Hensley (27:41.72) and Nick Zadar (27:57.60). Beisel called Zadar’s performance the biggest breakthrough on the men’s side. Said Beisel, “I’m really proud of all these guys and girls for the patience, the effort and the sacrifice they have made. We’ve got something we can use as confidence heading into the next few weeks of training.”
Both Concordia squads competed favorably in relation to their GPAC competition. The women placed behind only Dordt (ranked sixth in the NAIA) while defeating Morningside, Doane (fourth), Northwestern (sixth), Dakota Wesleyan (ninth), College of Saint Mary (10th), Mount Marty (11th) and Briar Cliff (13th). The men placed behind Dordt (second) and Doane (fifth) but in front of Northwestern (seventh), Morningside (eighth), Dakota Wesleyan (10th), Mount Marty (12th) and Briar Cliff (14th).
The Bulldogs now have a layoff in the schedule before returning to action on Saturday, Oct. 24 with the Mount Marty Invite in Yankton, S.D. That meet will be the final one prior to the GPAC Championships on Nov. 7.