Dordt College News

Taking the lead

January 25, 2013

The last couple of years have been good ones for the Dordt College men's and women's cross country teams.

Both men and women qualified for the national meet, and head coach Greg Van Dyke won back-to-back Coach of the Year awards. The Defender runners have benefitted from strong leaders motivating their squad.

Two of those leaders wrapped up their collegiate cross country careers on November 17 at the NAIA Championships in Vancouver, Washington. Senior captains Merissa Harkema and Ryan Tholen ran their final races on a muddy, rainy Saturday afternoon, finishing 18 combined years of cross country running.

Tholen, an individual qualifier, finished 141st out of 309 racers, while Harkema was 72nd and the second runner on Dordt’s ninth-place finishing team.

The Defender women clinched the national berth with a dominant showing in the GPAC Championships, earning their first-ever conference title. Dordt runners placed third through eighth, finishing 66 points ahead of the next team.

The men’s team finished fifth in a tough GPAC conference but sent Tholen and sophomore Nathan Jackson to nationals based on their individual qualifying times.

As captains, Tholen and Harkema not only set good examples in their performances, but also in their day-to-day attitudes.

“Nothing’s going to be given to us. We can do it if we work really hard,” Tholen told his teammates earlier this year as the team prepared to seek a second straight GPAC title.

Harkema’s leadership focused on team-building, “I definitely try to build the relationships that we have—not only in how we perform, but in how we get along. I want to make it fun,” she said.

The team captains helped motivate their respective teams, but they also encouraged a sense of being part of one large team.

Over the summer, Tholen and Harkema discussed their approach to the season and how to keep each other accountable throughout the year. The results benefitted both teams, the captains say.

Harkema, the lone senior on the women’s team, says she wanted to send a message to her teammates in her final season.

“This was the perfect season, and I didn’t want the girls to take it for granted. It’s not always like this: You don’t always have a great team; you don’t always stay healthy; you don’t always get to go to nationals. What we had was really awesome.”

“It was the perfect capstone race for my senior year!” said Tholen. “It was wet, muddy, dangerous, slippery, and super fast.”

For both athletes, the end of their college running careers is bittersweet.

“Running year-round at Dordt helped me develop into who I am here and who I am as a person. I had so many great experiences,” said Tholen.

“We’ve actually joked about me cycling back as a freshman and sticking around for next year,” said Harkema.

The future looks bright for the teams they are leaving. Both squads return the rest of their top five runners next year and have signed some strong new recruits. They will continue to build on the solid foundation this year's leaders helped set in place.


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