Warsaw, IN – History was made Friday at the NCCAA Cross Country National Championships with the Grace Christian University women’s team finishing with its highest place in program history, finishing 2nd in the nation. In addition to the runner up finish at the championships, the Tigers had their third ever cross country runner earn All-American honors, had three scholar-athlete award winners, and saw men’s runner Ben Bird receive the Elvin and Joyce King Award, which is the highest honor bestowed upon a cross country runner in the NCCAA.
Bob Jones University edged out the Tigers for the top spot with 39 points. The Tigers, with 83 points, placed ahead of Crown College (92 points) and Maranatha Baptist (94 points) in a field that featured 15 schools.
It was a storybook weekend for the Grace cross country team, who also had two men competing at Nationals in addition to the women’s full team. In addition to the numerous awards and record-breaking performances, the Tigers were blessed to receive a surprise visit from the real Thomas Valles, who was featured in the movie "McFarland USA" the night before the races. Valles, known for his running accomplishments for McFarland High School in California, happened to be in Michigan for a speaking engagement and saw Coach Verwey’s social media post about the team watching the "McFarland USA" movie. He then reached out to Coach Verwey and stated that he wanted to drive down to Indiana to surprise and meet the Tigers at the NCCAA worship and awards ceremony that night and then actually did it. The Tigers runners and coaches were honored to have Valles join them for the evening, worshiping with them, sitting with them during the award ceremony, and even staying at the hotel with them. Breakfast with Valles the morning of the Championship races was full of questions and stories and was a great way to both motivate the Tigers and help them stay calm before the meet.
Grace head coach Gerry Verwey was absolutely thrilled for his runners after the meet. "I’ve been asking the team almost every day, ‘Why not us?’ and have known since August the potential of our team. It was up to them to buy into it and actually run the race worthy enough of a second place finish," commented Verwey. "You couldn’t have written a better script for our weekend. Every runner in the girls race made significant moves during the race to earn spots and if any one of those moves hadn’t happened, we may not have even made the podium. It truly was a team effort where each of them gave all they had for each other and raced with purpose. We were truly blessed," added Verwey
Senior Lucy Nusbaum (Holland, MI) had the breakout season of her life, dropping over two minutes from the start of the season and placing 5th overall in a time of 21:04 and earning All-American honors. Only two other cross country runners for Grace had earned All-American honors previously, Josie (Lange) Williams in 2014 and Kimberly (Buskirk) Proctor in 2017, 2018, and 2019, which puts Nusbaum in a very elite group.
Junior Alyssa Gennetty (Jackson, MI) had an epic performance, despite battling a severe cold in the days leading up to the meet. With a smart start in the first mile, Gennetty ran a tactically smart race and made significant moves in the wooded section of the second mile emerging back into the open spectator area with a look of determination and focus. Finishing with a time of 22:35, she finished in 16th place.
Sophomore Maty Temrowski (Fenton, MI) was the solid anchor of confidence and aggressive racing for the Tigers throughout the course of the race. Temrowski finished in 21st with a time of 22:53 despite battling tight calves and shin pain late in the season.
Freshman Kristina Brandenburg (Twin Lake, MI) really stepped up for the Tigers by dropping a new lifetime personal best time and finishing in 29th place. Grace knew that it was going to need to depend on their freshman runner to hold her own in the race and Brandenburg stepped up to race like an upperclassman who was all in for her team.
Junior Julia Schultz (Bellaire, MI), after pulling double duty all season with the cross country and volleyball teams, made one of the most significant moves in the last 200 meters of the race by passing and holding off three runners from Crown and Maranatha that were key in securing a better score and holding off both schools in the final standings.
Senior Kent Herring (Evart, MI) competed in his final cross country race of his career for the Tigers. Herring turned in a gutsy effort throughout the 8 kilometer course in an effort to secure a top 15 finish. Ultimately, Herring finished in 18th place nationally in a time of 30:26.
Junior Ben Bird (Allendale, MI) finished 29th overall in a time of 32:03 but what was most significant was that the NCCAA awarded Bird with the Elvin and Joyce King Award which recognizes the top cross country runner in the country for combined athletic, academic, and Christian service and character. Bird joined elite company at Grace by receiving this award, as previous award winners for the Tigers include Joseph Craesmeyer (2020) and Kimberly (Buskirk) Proctor (2018).
With the conclusion of the cross country season, the Tigers will now turn their attention to the indoor track and field season. The first indoor meet of the season will be at Saginaw Valley State University on December 1-2. Stay tuned for future updates regarding the track and field season.