As the cross country season draws into November, there are two things a team can do: dwell on what it has already accomplished or look forward to what is to come. The UW-Green Bay Phoenix cross country team is looking to do both.
The team entered the season with few expectations to outsiders, with both the men’s and women’s teams coming in ninth during the preseason Horizon League poll. Despite that, both teams started the season taking significant steps forward. The team’s first meeting was on its home course. Kelsey Radobicky won the women’s race as an individual, and Riley Siltman’s second-place finish led the men’s team to a second-place finish.
A month later, the team traveled to South Bend, Indiana, to take part in a race hosted by Notre Dame. The meet was arguably one of the team’s biggest stages in the entire season, with nearly 40 colleges attending from all over the eastern half of the United States. When the lights were bright, the team stepped up. In the men’s 8,000-meter race (4.98 miles), Siltman ran a 24:58, good for a new school record. In the women’s 5,000-meter race (3.11 miles), Radobicky ran a time of 17:49, which is also good for a new school record. The accomplishments by the men’s team were particularly sweet for a couple of runners down the finishing order. Siltman moved past Mitchell Bilitz (25:02 in 2015) at the top of the list, and freshmen Noah Jahnke and Mason Gates also moved into the top ten all-time in school history. Jahnke’s 25:38 was also the fastest freshman time ever run in school history. Following the meet, six of the school’s top ten athletes were active members of the men’s team. Junior Hunter Krepline sat third, senior Matthew Marcisnke was fourth, and graduate student Payton Heinberg was fifth. Jahnke and Gates were sixth and ninth, respectively.
“When I first got that record, it was just a lot of excitement,” Siltman said. “I had been working towards this for a really long time, so it’s just super pumped…Ever since I committed here, that’s always been a goal. I just upped my training every year just tried to make myself as good as I could be. I think there’s still a lot more to give, but it’s super encouraging to hit that achievement and smash it again one day.”
“From day one, a hard worker, and he’s progressed,” Phoenix cross country head coach Mike Klein said. “He keeps getting better and better. He’s a good, humble leader, and that’s to his credit. He’s only going to get better because he works.”
While the women’s season is split up into 5,000-meter and 6,000-meter races, Radobicky demolished the old school record in the 5,000-meter race at Notre Dame. Her 17:49 was almost a half-minute ahead of Jessica Shefchik, who held the previous record at 18 minutes, 16 seconds.
Kelsey has improved a lot each year,” noted Klein. “She gave up half of her senior year [of high school]. She started a half-year early, and not too many student-athletes do that. She’s worked hard academically and on the cross country course. She challenges herself every day – she wants to be the best, and it’s shown.”
At the Bradley Pink Classic in Illinois on October 13, senior Ellie Smith snuck her way onto the school record boards, running the 6,000-meter race in 22:47, good for seventh all-time among Phoenix.
The positive momentum for the team continued at the Horizon League championships. The meet was hosted by Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio, a drive of about eight hours from campus. In the women’s race, Radobicky was a returning second-team all-conference athlete, and she was true to form, placing eighth to garner another second-team all-conference nod. She also captured the school record in the 6,000-meter race.
“I guess when I crossed the finish line, I was more concerned about where I was going to place in the conference,” she said. “I actually thought I placed better than I did last year, but looking at it, I came in ninth with a 22:17 and then came in eighth with a 21:31. So the Horizon League just got that much faster. When someone told me about breaking the record, it was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool’, but it wasn’t my main priority.”
The women’s team placed ninth out of 11 teams, matching the expectation from the poll.
Siltman had another solid showing in the men’s race, running 25:22, but Jahnke stole the show, exploding for an effort of 25:12 that pushed him up to third on the school’s all-time record list. Gates brought the freshman heat as well, improving his best time to 25:38. Heinberg and Clay Taylor rounded out the team’s top five runners, with Taylor’s new best time of 25:45 landing him near the bottom of the new all-time top ten as well. Because of all this success, the men’s team placed fifth of 10 teams, four spots above their poll prediction and their best-ever finish at the Horizon League championships.
“It was pretty neat – Coach [Nate] Vandervest and I were standing there, and we saw the results; I think our team was more excited than some of the teams who finished above us,” explained Klein. “That’s a priceless feeling. It’s something they’ve worked very hard for, and they’ve earned. But if they keep doing what they’re doing, things are going to get even better.”
“It’s just a really big deal,” noted Siltman. “It’s just so exciting. We’ve been working towards this for a really long time. We had the goal in mind of getting fifth – at times, there were moments where we weren’t sure if that was going to happen or if our training was going to pay off, and there was always that self-doubt. But to actually hit that goal, it’s just so exciting. I’m so excited for the future of this team.”
The sweetness didn’t stop there. After the conclusion of the running events at the meet, Klein was named Horizon League Coach of the Year. It was the first time in his 36-year coaching career that he was awarded the honor.
“Nobody’s more deserving of that award than Coach Klein,” said Radobicky. “From the day he recruited me, he took a chance on me. If it wasn’t for Coach Klein, I wouldn’t be here in Phoenix Country pursuing academics [and] improving my times. He really cares about his athletes, not just on his team, but more of a person than just an athlete. We always know that [Klein and assistant coach Nate Vandervest] will always have our backs.”
Siltman was similarly complimentary. “He’s done everything for me. He’s just been so supportive of literally everything I’ve done, both inside cross country and outside of cross country. A mentor and a great human being. It’s absolutely deserved.”
In the typical fashion of a servant leader, Klein deflected the glory to those around him.
“I thank Coach Vandervest, my assistant coach, and I thank both teams for making that happen. That award is ours. It’s by no means mine. I did not deserve that award. I sincerely, sincerely mean that.”
With the team’s regular season wrapped up, the team will now turn its focus to NCAA Regionals. Regionals are the qualifying race for nationals, which decide the team and individual champions for a season. Last season, the men finished 27th, and the women finished 28th. All signs point to those numbers improving this year.
“Individually, I would love to get that 10k school record, which is 32:18. Hoping to see that go down,” said Siltman. “As a team, just hoping to hold exactly where we’ve been, maybe pick off another couple of teams at regionals.”
“I’d like to run a [personal record], I’d like to place top 50 or better,” asserted Radobicky.
“This is the biggest race,” Klein explained. “Horizon League Championships are very important, but this race gets you to nationals. No other race gets you to nationals. I feel that our men’s team could probably have the highest finish they’ve ever had.”