Health key for TC runners’ success

These athletes form the Tabor College women’s cross-country team: (from left) assistant coach Brielle Lund, Kelsey Nitzsche, Allison Topham, Lindsay Crist, Kate Reimer, Julie Loewen, Emily Kemling, head coach Joel Allen.
These athletes form the Tabor College women’s cross-country team: (from left) assistant coach Brielle Lund, Kelsey Nitzsche, Allison Topham, Lindsay Crist, Kate Reimer, Julie Loewen, Emily Kemling, head coach Joel Allen.
These athletes comprise the Tabor College men’s cross-country team this season: (from left) assistant coach Brielle Lund, Austin Weaver, Riley Ballou-Lyngstad, Thomas Bacon, Collin Bruske, Jonathan Hinerman, Garrett Kinsey, Alex White, head coach Joel Allen.
These athletes comprise the Tabor College men’s cross-country team this season: (from left) assistant coach Brielle Lund, Austin Weaver, Riley Ballou-Lyngstad, Thomas Bacon, Collin Bruske, Jonathan Hinerman, Garrett Kinsey, Alex White, head coach Joel Allen.
Keeping athletes healthy will be important for the Tabor College cross-country teams this season, as both the men’s and women’s squads will start the season with five healthy runners each.

Second-year coach Joel Allen said he is still learning and adapting strategy as a young coach.

“Part of my growth as a coach this year is going to be understanding even better how to and when to listen to the athletes and just back off when we need to, to stay healthy,” he said.

Allen said he is pleased with the passion he sees in this year’s group.

“This isn’t meant to be an affront to last year’s teams, but I just think there’s a lot more joy and passion in this group,” he said. “Part of that could be youth, but being able to take that and encourage it is a good thing.”

Allen said he expects both the men’s and women’s teams to finish between fourth and sixth place this year.

“I think it depends a lot on how things shake out,” he said. “If the women’s side gets better this year, I could see the women getting sixth and thinking it was still a huge improvement.

“On the men’s side, I think that we’re going to have a massive improvement, but I don’t see more than one or two teams that were right in front of us last year, (that we’d be) able to jump yet.”

Men—As a team, the Bluejays finished eighth at the KCAC cross-country championships last year. Two members of last year’s squad return.

Senior Thomas Bacon will lead the team. He was Tabor’s top finisher at the KCAC meet, concluding his first year with a 34th-place finish in the 8-kilometer race in 27 minutes 50.7 seconds.

“Every day, I see him improving,” Allen said. “I know he is a talented enough runner to make it to nationals in cross (country). But the problem is, we only have a certain amount of time. This is his last season.”

Allen said he would like to see Bacon break 27 minutes.

“That’d be a lot of improvement in one year, but with his lack of development through college, it makes it more likely for him to be the kind of prospect that makes that happen,” he said.

Sophomore Riley Ballou-Lyngstad returns for his second year. He was Tabor’s fourth finisher in the KCAC race last year, placing 60th in 29:28.9.

Allen said he would like to see Ballou-Lyngstad run in the 28-minute range.

“I’d be shocked if he doesn’t break 29 (minutes) sometime in the early or mid part of the season,” he said.

Four freshmen have joined the ranks: Hillsboro graduate Jonathan Hinerman, Collin Bruske from Colorado Springs, Garrett Kinsey from Norman, Okla., and Alex White from Bonner Springs. White had surgery over the summer, Allen said, adding that he doesn’t expect him to begin running until October.

All four have run 17:40 or faster in a 5-k race, Allen said.

“They’re not world beaters, but they are very solid freshmen,” he said. “You get that kind of freshmen year in and year out, and by the time they’re juniors and seniors, they are going to have a significant impact on the KCAC.”

Senior Avery Franz, who ran his first season with the team in 2016, will run on a limited basis.

“Avery is going to run for us at the conference meet, but he was very close to qualifying for nationals in the triple jump at the end of last track season, so this fall he’s going to focus on training for the triple jump.”

Sophomore Austin Weaver is dealing with a chronic injury and will help as team manager, Allen said.

Allen said he expects his men’s team time total to drop this season, by as much as 5 to 71⁄2 minutes.

“(That) is a massive jump, no matter where you’re at,” he said. “I’m just really excited for the season.”

While Allen said he expects improvement from his men’s team this year, he doesn’t foresee the Bluejays breaking into the top tier of teams just yet.

“Fourth through first is on a little bit different tier, and even fifth maybe included in that,” he said. “I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to get there.”

Tabor was projected to finish eighth in the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll. Saint Mary topped the poll, followed by Kansas Wesleyan.

The KCAC’s top three finishers—all from Saint Mary—return this year, and Allen said he expects the Spires to be nationally ranked this season.

Women—As a team, the Bluejays finished seventh at the KCAC championships last year, but the Bluejays return a majority of the team.

Sophomore Emily Kemling returns, having paced the Bluejays with a 13th-place finish in the 5-k race in 19:38.6. She is a 2017 preseason team selection.

“(Emily) enjoys what she does, and she has a certain hunger to get better that is impressive to me,” Allen said. “We’ll see if this changes over time, but last year, especially, as a freshman, she just had the desire to go out and get whatever needed to be done, done. As a sophomore, one of her challenges will be making sure she uses it in a positive way.”

Kemling developed a stress fracture during the indoor track season, which has affected her training, Allen said.

“She was able to train all summer,” he said. “She’s in decent shape, but she’s certainly not at her best.”

Also named to the preseason team was junior Julie Loewen, who finished 17th at the KCAC meet in 19:55.0.

“I think she’s going to do great this year,” Allen said. “I would be surprised if she doesn’t drop a decent amount of time, if only because last year during cross-country season, she was a little dinged up.”

Sophomore Lindsay Crist was Tabor’s fourth KCAC finisher last year, placing 54th in 22:05.9.

“(Lindsay), again, was one that was dinged up last year,” Allen said. “She definitely struggled to make an adjustment to collegiate running. We bumped her up in mileage, so it took her some time to work through that.”

Crist took a break from running at the start of the summer by training in the pool, Allen said.

“She’s coming into this cross-country season a lot more fresh,” he said. “She looks really good from a running standpoint. It seems to me like she’s stronger. ”

Junior Kelsey Nitzsche, who placed 88th in 28:43.9 in 2016, is recovering from a hip injury and most likely will not run this season, Allen said.

Two freshmen have joined the team: Allison Topham from Valley Center, and Kate Reimer from Maize.

“As a PR, (Allison has) run in the 20:30s, but that was from her junior year of high school,” Allen said. “She didn’t do quite as well her senior year, so we’re hopefully getting her back to where she was before.

“(Kate) ran like 22:59 for her PR at her last meet of the year last year in high school. Kate is a really hard worker, and I’m really glad she’s out.”

The Bluejays were projected to finish seventh in the KCAC. Friends was picked first, followed by Saint Mary.

“The women, if we can stay healthy and live up to the higher ends of our potential, will improve by quite a bit,” Allen said. “Last year, we finished seventh in the KCAC. I thought we had a higher ceiling than that, but this year I think our ceiling is probably similar to last year’s, but I think the likelihood we reach that ceiling might be better.”

Tabor will open the season Sept. 9 at Sterling’s Warrior Fest Invitational.