PELLA — Spring-boarding off career-best showings at regional qualifiers, three Central College runners will compete at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships Saturday.
Caleb Silver (junior, Conrad, BCLUW HS) and Will DeHaan (senior, DeWitt, Central DeWitt HS) qualified for the men’s championship race while Caroline McMartin (sophomore, Pella) is making her first trip to the women’s championship.
The 8,000-meter men’s championship race starts at 11 a.m. Eastern Time at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kentucky, followed by the 6,000-meter women’s race at noon. A webstream of the races can be accessed via NCAA.com.
Both Central teams posted improved sixth-place finishes in the 24-team NCAA Division III Midwest Regional Championships at Saukie Golf Course in Rock Island, Illinois last Saturday, but the three Dutch runners were individual selections.
Silver raced to 12th place in 24:45.8 on the 8,000-meter course. That’s 38 seconds under his career-best time of 25:24 run on the same course Oct. 1 and easily outdistances his 63rd-place showing in the 2019 regional.
Will DeHaan (senior, DeWitt, Central DeWitt HS) followed closely in 14th in 24:48.5, more than 32 seconds under his previous best of 25:21 and well under his 2019 regional finish of 42nd.
They’re Central’s first men’s championships qualifiers since Mark Fairley and Tanner Rathje made the trip in 2017. While it’s the first national cross country meet for both Dutch runners, Silver did compete in the NCAA Division III Track and Field Championships at Greensboro, North Carolina in May, finishing 12th in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Coach Joe Dunham thinks that will work in his favor.
“I think Caleb was kind of eyes wide open at the national meet last year, just kind of taking in the entire experience,” Dunham said. “My hope is that he’ll be able to just be calm and understand now that he belongs in this field.
“And Will, being a senior, he’s a pretty smart guy and I think he handles high-pressure situations really well.”
Silver has made huge strides over the season, Dunham said.
“I think his confidence level is at an all-time high and it should be,” he said. “He has worked extremely hard and is committed to the process. We’ve seen dramatic improvement in him.”
For DeHaan, the meet was a four-year goal.
“He’s flirted with qualifying in track much of his career here at Central and I couldn’t be more happy for him to finally reach that goal of getting to the national meet,” Dunham said.
McMartin is Central’s first women’s qualifier since Miranda Kruiswyk in 2018. McMartin was 19th in the regional meet, covering the 6,000-meter course in 22:27.9, 16 seconds under her previous best. Dunham said she thrives in pressure situations.
“All season, when we’ve run in big meets, she has not been intimidated,” Dunham said. “I think she’s really confident right now. She’s running fantastic and feels great.”
Her times have steadily dropped.
“It’s been just an incredible year for her,” Dunham said. “If you look back at what she did as a freshman to what she’s doing now 365 days later, we’re seeing pretty dramatic improvement in her performances. That’s a credit to her and her commitment and hard work.”
In last year’s season-ending American Rivers meet, McMartin finished in 23:57, more than 1:30 behind the time she turned in at last weekend’s regional.
Dunham is eager for his runners to shine on the national stage.
“Our goal is to, number one, get some really good experience at the national level,” he said. “We want to compete with the best and have the attitude that we belong there.”
Finishing in the top 40 and gaining All-America distinction is within reach for all three runners, Dunham said.
“All three of them are extremely confident,” he said. “They really believe in themselves and they know the work they’ve put in. They’re a salty group.”
Dunham is eager to build on this weekend and propel the Dutch men and women to qualify as teams in the future.
“For the rest of our team to be able to witness this success and get the experience that these three are going to get to go through I think will help our other athletes and motivate them as we move forward into the future,” he said.