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(Grand Rapids, Mich.) After running their worst race of the season two weeks ago, the Cornerstone Men's Cross Country team dropped from thirteenth to thirty-second in the national rankings. In the process they went from an almost certain at-large bid to the NAIA National meet to only a slim chance. To make the National meet, Cornerstone needed to win the WHAC or finish very close to the winning team. Since 2001 that team has been Aquinas, who entered the meet ranked third in the latest NAIA poll.
Unlike the October 24 event, the conditions at Riverside Park were much better. A week of cold weather firmed the footing and by race time the sun was bright. A stiff southwest wind of 20 miles per hour would be a factor, however as the men would run into it for 1200 meters twice during the 8,000 meter race.
As expected, Zach Ripley and Alex Green took the lead from the start with Mike Glinski of Siena Heights tucked in behind. The trio passed the mile in 4:51 with Stephan Larson and Billy Carl positioned perfectly in the lead pack four seconds back.
Things stayed the same for five kilometers then Ripley and Green opened up five meters on Glinski with Rob Veldman of Aquinas another twenty meters behind. Aquinas' trademark large pack was splintered with Larson and Green between the Saint's third and fourth men. Siena, Davenport and Indiana Tech filled out the top twelve followed by five Aquinas runners in the next six spots.
By four miles the Golden Eagles were close to the Saints, the score at that point was Aquinas 42 Cornerstone 44. Up front, Ripley and Green had first and second secured and Glinski was looking vulnerable to Veldman. Larson was in a three way battle with Jesiah Rodriguez of Siena and Dustin Heiler of Aquinas. Coach Rod Wortley gave Larson, Carl and Adam Looman the same improbable news as the passed the four mile mark, "Pass two and we win."
At the finish Ripley took his first WHAC Cross Country title in 25:52 with Green earning All-WHAC honors in second at 25:57. Larson made a go of it with Rodriguez and Heiler but couldn't match their finishing kicks, though he did secure the final All-Conference spot in seventh, clocking 26:24.
With 1,000 meters remaining Billy Carl passed CU distance coach, Nate Van Holten, "He gave me a look that said, ‘I'm ready to go' and just took off," said Van Holten. Carl moved from fourteenth to eleventh, putting CU ten points ahead of AQ with only the fifth and final scorer remaining. The Saints took the next four spots giving them a final score of 44 points, meaning Cornerstone' Adam Looman needed to finish no worse than twenty-third. The sophomore from Grand Rapids crossed the line in 27:57, twenty-first.
At that moment, no one knew the outcome of the race. Wortley and Van Holten compared notes from the four mile mark and just before the finish line and concluded that Cornerstone either won by two points or lost by two points. Their uncertainty stemmed from the fact that it's easy to miscount twenty-five guys running by at twelve miles per hour.
Twenty minutes later they had their answer as Aquinas Coach and meet director, Dave Wood delivered Wortley a copy of the results and a congratulatory handshake. Wortley quickly flipped to the last page, scanning for the team finish. And there it was.
1. Cornerstone 42
After finding Van Holten the two enjoyed the moment they'd hoped for over seven years. "This wasn't really our race to win, but we were backed into a corner, being ranked thirty-third," said Wortley. "We had to try and get as close as we could to Aquinas and in the process we wound up beating them. Nate did an incredible job preparing the guys for this and they executed the plan perfectly. We were a good team two weeks ago when we ran poorly and the guys came back proved that today when it mattered the most." Van Holten was named men's cross country WHAC coach of the year.