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Waldorf duo caps historic season at nationals

waldorf-warriors-outline_1By Matt Oliver

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Waldorf College men’s cross country runners Nathan Meiners and Luis Ramirez-Paez became the first duo in program history to represent the Warriors in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championships last Saturday.

“Having two athletes at the national meet is a big step for not only the cross country program, but also for our athletic department as a whole,” Waldorf head coach Kelsey Riggins said. “When one of our teams goes to a national tournament, it is like we are all going.”

Meiners closed out the race in 291st place with a time of 27 minutes, 56.4 seconds on the 8K course at McAlpine Creek Park. Ramirez-Paez crossed the finish line in 325th (30:07.3).

“Nathan and Luis got a very valuable experience from competing against a field of this caliber,” Waldorf associate head coach Corey Bins said. “They didn’t have the performances that they were hoping for, which is tough for them since they now have to wait until next fall to get back out on the cross country course to get another shot at it.”

Throughout the early stages of the race, Meiners and Ramirez-Paez were putting together solid paces.

“They competed very hard and got out hard the first mile and were where they needed to be at the two-mile mark, but they just didn’t have their best stuff, which unfortunately happens from time to time to a runner,” Bins said.

Meiners, a junior from Omaha, Neb., is ready to raise the bar heading into his final season at Waldorf next fall. Ramirez-Paez, who is a freshman from San Antonio, will only continue to make strides in the years to come.

“They will take away a lot of positives from their experience as now they know what the national championship is all about and know how to run the course,” Bins said. “I know they are both very motivated to do what they have to do in order to get back to Charlotte next season and be able to have another shot at running a great race at nationals.”

William Carey University’s Geoffrey Kipchumba raced to first (23:55.0) and Wayland Baptist University’s Benard Keter took second (24:14.2).

Top-ranked Oklahoma City University won its third consecutive national championship with 78 points while No. 5 University of St. Mary (168) secured second in the 36-team competition.

It was a strong end to the season for Meiners and Ramirez-Paez, who recorded record-setting marks in their first year at Waldorf. They established new school records in the NAIA Seminole Valley Stampede on Oct. 24 at Cedar Rapids. Meiners charged to 52nd (27:04) while Ramirez Paez earned 57th (27:09) as both runners broke the previous school record time of 27:15, set by Alejandro Sanchez in 2012.

Meiners and Ramirez-Paez became the first Warrior runners to compete on a national stage since 2012.

“Having athletes qualify for the national meet gives them a taste of that success and it leaves those who didn’t qualify hungry to come along next year to qualify during the indoor and outdoor track seasons,” Riggins said.

It was a season of all-time highs for Waldorf. The Warriors set the fastest average for five scoring runners in the Herb Blakely Invitational on Sept. 12 at Madison, South Dakota, turning in an average of 28:53.2 on the 8K course. Waldorf continued to make school history on the same course, battling to a runner-up finish in the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) Championships on Nov. 7. It was the best team placing the Warriors have ever earned in a conference meet.

During the NSAA Championships, Meiners, Ramirez-Paez and senior Cody Clark captured all-conference honors. Meiners locked up fifth (27:49.8) and Ramirez-Paez and claimed eighth (28:06.32) to earn trips to the national meet. Clark, who was also recognized as an NAIA Scholar-Athlete at season’s end, left it all out on the course in the final meet of his career as he pulled in 10th (28:21.98) to end the race one place short of qualifying for the national meet.

The performances at nationals might not have been what Meiners and Ramirez-Paez had in mind, but they helped set the tone in what was arguably the most exciting season in school history.

“One race doesn’t define their season and they should be extremely proud of what they and their teammates accomplished this fall,” Bins said. “They were a great 1-2 punch for us all season and will lead our push for the conference championship next season and a team berth in the national championship. I am very lucky to have been able to work with these young men day in and day out since August and could not be more excited for the future of Waldorf cross country.”

Working with Waldorf’s runners, Bins was instrumental in helping the program achieve significant success during his first season in Forest City.

“He worked with the cross country men on a daily basis,” Riggins said. “The way our coaching staff is structured, he is responsible for the training of our distance athletes, which is cross country and then carries over into track season.”

“Coach Bins has been a great addition to the coaching staff and for our athletic department,” Riggins added. “He has a very bright future as a coach and I am happy to have him here with us at Waldorf.”

Adam Brinkman and Clark will graduate this spring, but the Warriors return 10 members from this year’s team and add Chasen Selsor, a transfer from Southwestern Community College, during track season this spring. A solid incoming recruiting class will continue to strengthen the program in years to come.

“The future for men’s cross country at Waldorf College is very bright,” Riggins said. “This year’s team really set the standards for performance both on the course and in the classroom.”

Confidence was gained throughout the cross country season. Ten of the 12 members on the squad were new to Waldorf’s campus as either freshmen or transfers. They came together as a team and worked to lead the programs to new heights.

“They grew as a team and bonded,” Riggins said. “People didn’t really know what to expect from our team this fall and we couldn’t be happier that they went out and battled to a second-place finish in the North Star meet against some extremely developed and historically successful programs.”

The Warriors now shift their focus the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons. Waldorf opens the indoor campaign Dec. 5 in the Chuck Petersen Open at Mankato, Minn., beginning at 10 a.m. The success of the cross country season is expected to build momentum.

“They need to remember how well they did and what they accomplished this season and carry that into track season, summer training and next fall,” Riggins said.