Grand Rapids Community College cross country teams achieve program first

Grand Rapids Community College’s cross country teams don’t focus much on rankings, times and any other numbers associated with the sport.

It would be tempting to do so this fall since the women are ranked fifth in the nation while the men are 10th, marking the first time in program history that both teams have been ranked in the top 10.

In addition, Joshua Kipkoech has been named the National Junior College Athletic Association Cross Country Runner of the Week this week.

But the Raiders would rather focus on effort than results.

“You get a little excited when you find out that you are ranked in the top five, but you know you have to focus on getting the work done and stay injury free and make sure you are helping out your teammates,” assistant coach Sharon Becker said. “(Head) Coach Matt (Sicilia) over the years tells our runners don’t worry so much about place because we want to focus on the effort. All the way down to the slowest runner on the team, we emphasize that you have to go 100 percent every race like you are going to win nationals.

“What is your attitude and how are you going to help your teammates out? We don’t care if we get 10th place or first place as much as did you really run your very best today and did you do your everything you could for your teammates.”

Sicilia started GRCC’s cross country program from scratch in 2014, and the culture he has built was evident during the Raiders’ performance in this past Saturday’s Michigan Community College Athletic Association meet at Jackson College. It was the second meet of the season, and the men’s and women’s squads were both victorious for the second-straight meet.

GRCC sophomore Kiah Becker took top honors while freshman teammate Audrey Meyering was runner-up. Sicilia said Becker, who is Sharon Becker’s daughter, demonstrated the type of leadership that has helped the Raiders climb into the nation’s top-five.

“I challenge the sophomores every year to lead by example and take the freshmen under their wing and mentor them and make them feel like a valuable part of the team,” Sicilia said. “The last race, she held back just a little bit the first part of the race and brought along one of our freshmen and it worked out so well. Audrey, our freshman, ran right with her and they ended up finishing first and second overall in the race. It was really cool to see that. That selflessness was awesome. Kiah recognized that afterwards. That was super rewarding for her.

“Audrey has been coming along the past two weeks. She can make a huge difference on the team, despite being a first-year runner.”

GRCC’s men’s team has received a big boost this fall with the addition of Kipkoech, who earned medalist honors at Jackson with a time of 27 minutes, 39.56 seconds. He beat out runner-up Drew Mayes of St. Clair Community College by 1 minute, 29 seconds.

“Joshua is the most talented runner that I have coached in my life, and I have coached a lot of really talented dudes,” said Sicilia, who coached 10 seasons at Calvin Christian High School before arriving at GRCC. “He comes from Kenya, and he ran as part of their national youth program in the mid 2000 teens. He moved to Grandville in 2017. Some of those guys he ran with in Kenya are now winning Olympic medals.

“He’s 25 years old and hasn’t been into running the last few years. He happened to start taking automotive classes at GRCC and noticed that we have a cross country program. He wanted to get back into it. He missed the competition and hard training. He has been a Godsend. He has been able to help our team compete at a very high level. I have no doubt that he will be a high-finishing All American.”

Jack Keogh has provided leadership and solid performances. Keogh finished fourth at Jackson and will be looking for another strong finish in Friday’s meet in Grayling.

“We are super excited and satisfied with the amount of work Jack has put in,” Sicilia said. “He is one of those kids you really root for to have success in the end because day in and day out they have been keeping their nose to the grindstone.”

The Raiders will compete in the Oct. 31 MCCAA Region XII Championship in Lansing. Qualifiers will advance to the NJCAA Division II National Championships Nov. 14 in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

“One of the goals is something that is a cultural thing,” Sicilia said. “We want everyone to get to know each other better. We are challenging teamwork and team building activities.

“Our long-term goal is that there are three trophies at nationals. That would be the ultimate high-bar goal for both programs, to finish in the top-three in Junior College Division II.”

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