The 2013 cross country season was a big step for the program in the third season under the direction of Coach Jason Lewkowicz. Both the men and the women improved throughout the fall, with both taking high finishes at the ODAC Championship and improving their regional finish over last season. Hannah Chappell-Dick (Bluffton, Ohio/Bluffton) also qualified for nationals, becoming the first female to run on the big stage since 2002.
The women were not at full strength to start the season, as a handful of athletes were recovering from offseason injuries. They still finished fourth at the ODAC Preview and third at the inaugural Shenandoah Valley Invitational, co-hosted with Bridgewater College at Elk Run Trails in Elkton.
Although they never really got back to full speed during the fall, the Royals still finished second at the ODAC Championships, their highest finish as a team since winning the title in 2001. Chappell-Dick, running in just her second race of the season, took fourth place and was named All-ODAC First Team. Lanae Kreider (Harrisonburg, Va./Broadway), Katie Eckman (Quarryville, Pa./Solanco) and Jolee Paden (St. Joseph, Ill./St. Joseph-Odgen) all landed on the All-ODAC Second Team.
At the South/Southeast Regional Meet on Nov. 16, the women took seventh place as a team, improving their regional finish by three spots from 2012. Chappell-Dick (12th) and Kreider (35th) earned All-Region status, with Chappell-Dick claiming the final individual spot to nationals despite a harrowing finish as she stumbled twice in the final stretch.
The sophomore then finished 221st out of 280 runners at nationals in Hanover, Ind. She was the first female nationals participant for Eastern Mennonite since recent Hall of Honor inductee Andrea Good went in 2002.
While the men were not slowed as much by injuries this year, their season-long improvement was based simply on gaining experience. Only two men on the roster were returners, but talented junior transfers Ryan Gehman (Millersville, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite) and Jacob Landis (Sterling, Ill./Sterling) led the charge.
The Royals took seventh at the ODAC Preview meet but followed that with back-to-back top five team finishes at the Generals Invitational and Shenandoah Valley Invitational. Gehman won his first race as a Royal went he topped 67 runners at the Generals Invite.
Landis returned to the course in October and helped spur the men on to a fourth place finish at the ODAC Championships, three spots better than their finish at the Preview on the same course, and their highest ODAC rank since 2004. Gehman finished eighth to earn All-ODAC Second Team, and Landis was 16th to just miss All-ODAC status.
Two weeks later, the duo again led the charge at the South/Southeast Regionals in Newport News. Gehman (11th) and Landis (35th), who were teammates at Hesston College as freshmen in 2011, each earned All-Region status as EMU finished 10th overall, and third out of ODAC teams.
Both men and women look experienced and poised for new heights as they prepare for 2014, as the two teams combined to graduate just two seniors.
"While we are not yet where we want to be, the ability to see tangible growth has been very exciting," said Coach Lewkowicz, "and knowing that we only have to replace one top-7 runner total means that we will continue to progress and reach for greater accomplishments. This has been an amazing group of men and women to work with and they are such great representatives of EMU. I know our campus is proud of their achievements but I want them to be even more proud of the character of this team, their sportsmanship, and how they have put honoring God above everything else. We've said all year that, if we run well, God gets the glory and, if we run poorly, He still gets the glory. It was an honor to run for Him (this year) and I look forward to a bright future with this team."