NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – In its third year of competition, Bethel’s cross country team continues to thrive. The 13-member team completed their competitive season on Nov. 7 with the KCAC Championships, hosted by Friends University.
Gary Histand, Bethel professor of chemistry, is in his first year as cross country head coach. He describes the team as a diverse group, who have “come together very well.”
Mariah Hostetler, freshman from Dodge City, agrees. “The team’s strength is probably the unity. We cheer for each other during meets and practices. We really do all get along.”’
In addition to practices and meets, the team eats supper together at Histand’s house before every meet. If that’s not enough, their close bonds are evident in the number of inside jokes they share.
Over fall break, the team bonded even more when they traveled together to Colorado, staying at the Mountain Community Mennonite Church in Palmer Lake.
While in Colorado, they ran, hiked and saw a couple of tourist attractions including the Olympic Training Center and Garden of the Gods, both in Colorado Springs.
In spite of the good times, the team has had its challenges for the year. The women started out with only five runners, the required number for a team. When Hostetler got injured, the women decided to look for a new teammate to fill the squad.
Monica Schmidt, junior from Haven, agreed to join mid-season. She had competed in the 32nd Annual Johnston's Wichita Half Marathon in September, and joining the cross country team seemed like a good way to stay motivated to run.
“One thing I have found in the short time I have been on the cross country team is that it is almost worth joining just to get a chance to hang out with such a fun group of people,” says Schmidt. “Though they have already had half a season to bond with each other, they have been so welcoming to me as a new member, and I am very grateful for this.”
Another one of the challenges in cross country is the variety of courses. Some are hard, especially in bad weather. Earlier this year, the Threshers ran at Friends University when “the course was muddier than all get out,” which of course affected the times of competitors, says Histand.
Overall, though, the team has continued to improve throughout the season.
In preparation for the meets, Bethel runners log 45 to 50 miles each week. Because of the college’s location, they are able to train on a variety of surfaces including the Sand Creek Trail on the northeast corner of campus and on nearby sand and gravel roads.
At the KCAC meet, the women’s team placed 5th out of nine. Natasha Esau, senior from Hutchinson, ran 14th and received All-Conference Honorable Mention. The men’s team placed 8th out of nine.
In the coming years, Histand would like to see the team “become a viable part of the college.” He hopes to grow the squad sizes, with a target of seven to 10 runners on each team.
Histand notes that running is different from other sports, “It’s something you can do by yourself, a lifetime activity that does not require refs or [special equipment]. You can just go out and run.
“People say, ‘How can it be fun to run five to 10 miles together?’,” says Histand, “but it is.”
Hostetler adds, “I’m really appreciative of my teammates and coach for making this a great season. Cross country is definitely one of my favorite parts of Bethel.”
In addition to Schmidt, Esau and Hostetler, other team members include Michael Bowman, sophomore from Syracuse; Pia Goedicke, junior from Bergheim, Germany; Emily Gundy, freshman from Halstead; Jackie Kamphaus, sophomore from Clay Center; Kyle Kroeker, freshman from Hutchinson; Kevin Leary, sophomore from North Newton; Zach Metzler, sophomore from Newton; Ben Moore, junior from Green; Brian Skinner, sophomore from Clay Center; and Dominic Suter, freshman from Hutchinson.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.