HASTINGS, Neb. – Northwestern men’s cross country team eyes school history Saturday during the Great Plains Athletic Conference championships.
The Red Raiders are the highest ranked NAIA men’s team in the field at No. 16 heading into the 11:30 a.m. 8,000-meter race at Elks Golf Course. The women’s 5,000-meter race begins at 10:45 a.m.
Northwestern, runners-up the last two seasons, is seeking a first-ever GPAC team championship and comes in having won its previous two meets, Briar Cliff and Mount Marty.
“That’s been their goal since the start of the year, they want to GPAC Champions,” said Northwestern coach Scott Bahrke. “I know last year when Nebraska Wesleyan finished first and we were a close second, they were hungry to win the title.”
Nebraska Wesleyan has moved on to the Iowa Conference and NCAA Division III full-time meaning a new champion will be crowned after the men’s race.
Northwestern is expecting a challenge from Dordt and Morningside, champions in 2013 and 2014.
The men’s individual race will also have a new champion this season and could become quite a battle up front.
Midland senior Danny Aldaba is the top returning finisher following a second-place effort last fall while Northwestern senior Will Norris was the champ at both Briar Cliff, beating Aldaba and Mount Marty.
Dordt senior Caleb Drake and Morningside junior Alec DeVries are also expected to be in the front pack during the race.
The Dordt women look to continue its stranglehold on the team championship and enter the meet with four consecutive GPAC titles.
Doane senior Marissa DeWispelare, a three-time All GPAC runner, is the defending individual race champion. DeWispelare will be challenged by Morningside senior Tiffany Shepherd, who won the individual race at Mount Marty and is a two-time All GPAC runner.
Dordt’s title defense will be paced by seniors Justine Van Zee and Erika Douma, both returning all-conference runners, as well as junior Julia Bos.
The team race will be extremely tight and might possibly the closest in GPAC history as Dordt enters the meet ranked 19th, Morningside 20th and Hastings and Doane are receiving votes.
The women’s team race hasn’t been decided by less than 20 points since 2005 when Concordia and Nebraska Wesleyan shared the team title.
Dordt edged Morningside by just three points at Mount Marty in the most recently completed meet.
“We had a faster team time, they had a little further fifth runner,” said Morningside coach Dave Nash. “They got us by a couple, so it’s going to be close.”