Young Central men’s cross country squad promising but unproven

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PELLA—It will still be a young squad that tries to return Central College to contender status in men’s cross country, but with a bit more seasoning than a year ago.

            Coach Joe Dunham’s relentless recruiting efforts have resulted in bountiful back-to-back hauls but leaves the Dutch with 21 freshmen and sophomores on a 30-man roster. Central, which posted four straight top-two conference finishes from 2012-16, with two league titles, dipped to sixth the past two years. Dunham is convinced Central is on the road back.

            “We’re young and we’re still figuring it out,” coach Joe Dunham said. “But I’m excited for these runners to get out there and compete and develop some confidence.”

            But two of the returnees, senior Daniel Sunvold (Monroe, Southeast Polk HS) and sophomore Easton Sabala (Wheatland, Hermitage HS), were in Central’s varsity top seven and a host of other returnees bring at least some varsity experience.

            “We’ve got a good group of guys who developed over the last year and I think we’re going to see good things out of them,” Dunham said.

            The Dutch do have some upperclassmen who provide Dunham a reassuring presence. Seniors Preston Kizer (senior, Dubuque), Mason Muur (senior, Morrison, Ill.) and Bryant Seuferer (senior, Milo, Southeast Warren HS) are serving as co-captains.

            “They’re going to be great leaders for us,” Dunham said. “They do a great job.”

            But for the first time in Dunham’s 11 seasons at Central, he’s not at all sure who the team’s on-course leader will be.

            “There’s really not a clear No. 1,” he said. “That’s new territory for me.

            “That’s not a bad thing if we’re running like we were at the beginning of last year. We had a spread of about 15-18 seconds, which is just absurd. If we can run like that, it’s not as crucial to have that frontrunner.”

            The uncertainty could also stimulate competition.

            “If they’re all fighting with each other because they want to be that No. 1 guy, that’s a good thing,” Dunham said.

            Sunvold is coming off a productive summer highlighted by racing to first at the Spearfish Canyon (S.D.) Half Marathon. He was Central’s No. 5 runner at the American Rivers Conference meet and No. 6 at the NCAA Division III Central Regional.

            “I’m excited about Daniel Sunvold, who has really put in a lot of hard work,” Dunham said. He’s really improved and put in a good summer of training.

            Sabala was No. 6 for Central at the league meet and No. 3 at the regional. He brought lofty high school credentials but endured an injury-plagued freshman campaign.

            “He had a great summer, though,” Dunham said. “Things are going really well for him. A lot of times you see runners take a huge jump from their freshman to sophomore year and I think there’s a good chance that Easton will experience that.”

            Another returning sophomore is Patrick Gorkow (sophomore, Van Horne, Benton HS), who was in Central’s top five three times earlier in the year.

            “Patrick dealt with the transition from high school to college,” Dunham said. “But he’s an extremely talented runner. He’ll be in the top five if he can stay healthy and stay focused.”

            Junior Nate Sanders (Waukee) cracked the top five at the Rim Rock Classic hosted by the University of Kansas. He could become a varsity mainstay.

            “Nathan has a very good chance to be one of our frontrunners this season,” Dunham said. “He had a great spring and has great confidence right now.”

Several other runners are in contention for varsity spots, including sophomore Ben Lamparek (Williamsburg), senior Eli Miller (Newhall, Benton HS), junior Jerry Lotz (Yokosuka, Japan, Nile C. Kinnick HS) and senior Austin Pfiffner (Dubuque, Hempstead HS).

“Ben (Lamparek) had a great freshman year,” Dunham said. “He really developed a lot and I think is going to make a huge jump. He’s really committed to getting a top-seven spot.

“Eli (Miller) has dealt with a lot of injuries but he’s back after studying abroad and I think will fight for a top-seven spot.

“Jerry (Lotz) has dealt with injuries as well but is coming into his own.

“Austin is a hard worker. He’s more of a middle-distance runner and so we’re trying to develop him there but he will contribute.”

            Dunham is counting on his class of 10 freshmen to provide some answers, although there will be a transition period as the newcomers adjust to the 8,000-meter race distance.

            “This freshman class is exciting,” he said. “We’re a little bit middle-distance-heavy with some of them, so I think the key is getting them into being distance runners during cross country. Once we get them to do that, I think good things will happen.”

            One of those middle-distance standouts is Evan Armitage (West Des Moines, Valley HS)

            “Evan Armitage had a phenomenal year last year for Valley High School,” Dunham said. “I fully expect him to be in our top seven.”

            Other Iowa prospects include Ian Thomson (Baxter) and Caleb Silver (Conrad, BCLUW HS).

            “Ian Thomson is a very committed runner,” Dunham said. “He’s very passionate about the sport.

            “Caleb Silver is just a great individual leader. I think he’ll be a leader for our freshman class and is someone who improved dramatically over the past season. I think he’s coming into his own and starting to mature as a runner.”

            Several other freshmen come from far beyond the grassy hills of the Central cross country course and Dunham thinks some could be hidden gems, such as Jacob Geiselhofer (Cave Creek, Ariz., Cactus Shadows HS), Jack Orengo (Naperville, Ill., Neuqua Valley HS), Adam Sylvia (Mattapoisett, Mass., Old Rochester Regional HS) and Trevor Williams (Apo, Japan, Kedena HS).

            “Jacob Geiselhofer has had very limited training and I think that with his frame and his ability, he’s going to be a good one for us,” Dunham said.

            “Jack Orengo, from Neuqua Valley High School, comes from one of the great cross country traditions not only in Illinois but in the country. He was one of their better runners. He’s a tall kid with a lot of ability who I think is ready to train at the college level.

            “Adam Sylvia I think he’s another one who’s had limited mileage so he’s a little bit untapped. I think he’s got a lot of potential and I expect him to shoot for a top-seven or even top-five spot.

            “Trevor Williams comes from a military family in Japan. He’s very underdeveloped. He hasn’t run much at all but I think he’s going to be really fun to coach.”

            The conference field appears strong. Defending champion Wartburg College remains the favorite, challenged by Loras College and Nebraska Wesleyan University. Dunham also expects improvement from Simpson College.

            Yet he would be disappointed in another sixth-place finish.

            “ We want to be in the top three, that’s a goal of ours and I really think we can do it,” Dunham said. “But it’s going to take a team effort and we’re going to really have a tight pack. It’s not going to be like it was in past years when we had a lot of frontrunners and we could go and beat up on everybody. We’re going to have to tighten it up and do it as a team.”