UPLAND, Ind. – Taylor University women's cross country head coach, Quinn White, has announced his signing class for the 2017-2018 season, adding a deep and talented group of newcomers to a program that has claimed four-straight Crossroads League Championships.
Anna Craig, Katelynn Hanback, Sarah Harden, Sarah Holzman, Erinne Lubienski, Oliva Schroder, Ariel Wentworth and Valerie Wierenga join manager Taylor Heath in making up the incoming class for the Trojans, who are looking to extend a stretch of four-straight seasons with a finish inside the top-20 at the NAIA National Championships. TU has won four-straight Crossroads League Championships and posted a regular season mark of 385-18 during that time, while winning 11-of-22 regular season races. The Trojans have also been ranked inside the top-25 in each of the past 37 NAIA Top-25 Polls.
"We are very excited about this year's incoming group of young ladies," said White. "Each fits our culture and brings something special to our current team. This year's class is very talented and very intentional. We are excited to invest in them and have them embrace this opportunity to continue their development and maximize their talent."
The incoming student-athletes will join a loaded Taylor program that is poised to return 16 letterwinners from the 2016 squad, including six-of-seven runners from the unit that finished 19th at the NAIA National Championships one year ago. The returning group will be highlighted by six former All-Crossroads League standouts in Alex Berends, Rachel Blagg, Taylor Bluemel, Andi Foster, Michelle Franch and Mae Elizabeth Gimre.
Anna Craig / Warsaw, IN / Warsaw HS
Craig set Warsaw's school record in the 4x800-meter relay and went on to claim a trio of All-Indiana honors over her career, while helping the Tigers to four-straight Northern Lakes Conference Championships on the track and a pair of NLC titles in cross country. For her efforts, Craig received five All-NLC honors and was WHS's recipient of the Coach's Award.
Craig is the daughter of Dan and Sue Craig and the younger sister of Laura, who is a senior on the TU volleyball team. Craig intends to major in elementary education during her time in Upland, after becoming a four-time Academic Honor Roll performer and earning Scholar-Athlete honors at Warsaw. Craig also received Congressional Recognition from the Warsaw Education Foundation and was a member of the National Honors Society.
"Both of my parents graduated from Taylor and my sister currently attends there as well, so after taking a look at several other schools, I quickly felt that Taylor was the place that God was calling me to," said Craig. "I knew I wanted to not only pursue my education but also pursue Christ as well. I felt that TU was the best fit for both of those desires."
Katelynn Hanback / Lafayette, IN / McCutcheon HS
Hanback collected All-North Central Conference attention four times during her career at MHS with two honors coming on the cross country course and the other two coming during her senior season in the 4x800-meter relay and 1,600-meter race. Hanback received the Sportsmanship Award, the Mental Attitude Award and was selected as the team MVP for the Mavericks.
Hanback is the daughter of Scott and Mandy Hanback and plans to seek a major in international studies during her time at Taylor. Hanback excelled in the classroom at McCutcheon, earning Academic All-NCC attention in track and cross country. Hanback was also a member of the National Honors Society and received the Daughters of American Revolution Good Citizen award, the Burger King Scholar-Athlete honor and the Sagamore Foundation Scholarship.
"As I pursue my academic and running careers, I desire to keep Jesus as the focus of all that I do," stated Hanback. "I chose Taylor because I know that Taylor will help to foster my relationship with Christ, as well as my relationship with and my service to others."
Sarah Harden / Arlington Heights, IL / Hersey HS
Harden earned All-Illinois recognition in the 1,600 and garnered All-Mid-Suburban League honors in cross country, as well as in the 1,600 and 4x800-meter relay in track. Harden was Hersey's MVP in cross country, while racing to all-sectional and all-regional honors. During track season, Harden set the school record and qualified for the state meet in the 1,600-meters. Harden also competed for Team Illinois in the Mid-East Cross Country Championship.
Harden is the daughter of Greg and Shelly Harden and the younger sister of Seth, who is a junior on the men's cross country and track programs. Harden intends to pursue a degree in kinesiology and exercise science at Taylor after graduating from Hersey with high honors. During her time at HHS, Harden was a member of the Academic Honor Roll and a member of the National Honors Society.
"I chose Taylor because it seemed like the right school to allow me to grow in my running, my faith and my academic studies," commented Harden.
Sarah Holzman / Strongsville, OH / Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy
Holzman lettered all four years in cross country and track, while serving as the team captain for each sport and qualifying for a combined five state meets. Holzman excelled on the course, winning the Principals Athletic Conference Championship as an individual and claiming PAC Runner-of-the-Year accolades.
Holzman is the daughter of Christopher and Kathy Holzman and will work toward a degree in biochemistry at Taylor. Holzman received the Montgomery Scholarship for academic and athletic excellence at CVCA, while also being named a Royal Scholar-Athlete and participating in the National Honors Society.
"I chose Taylor University because of the amazing community," remarked Holzman. "I felt that this is the place God will use me to help further His kingdom."
Erinne Lubienski / Grosse Pointe Woods, MI / Grosse Pointe North HS
Lubienski was selected as Grosse Pointe North's Most Dedicated Athlete after earning all-region and all-division honors on the track team and qualifying for the state meet in the 4x800 and 4x400-meter relays.
Lubienski is the daughter of Mark and Dawn Lubienski and graduated with honors from Grosse Pointe North.
"I fell in love with the Taylor campus when I visited and I felt at home with the girls on the cross country team," said Lubienski.
Olivia Schroder / Caledonia, MI / Caledonia HS
Schroder raced to All-Michigan honors during her senior year in cross country and was a three-time all-conference standout in cross country and track during her time at Caledonia High. Schroder was named as her cross country team's MVP in each of her four seasons and helped Team Michigan win the Mid-East Cross Country Championship in 2016.
Schroder is the daughter of Brett and Rhonda Schroder and the sister of Hannah, who competed her NAIA All-American career with the TU cross country and track programs this spring. Schroder plans to major in communications with a minor in Spanish during her time at Taylor and was a four-time member of the Academic Honor Roll at CHS, as well as an Academic All-Michigan standout.
"I really wanted a college where I could grow academically, athletically and spiritually," stated Schroder. "After praying about it, I felt led to Taylor. Through my visits and my sister's experience, I was able to see how welcoming and encouraging the team is."
Ariel Wentworth / Sugarcreek, OH / Garaway HS
Wentworth racked up five All-Ohio honors during her time at Garaway, qualifying for the state meet in cross country in each of her four seasons. Wentworth helped GHS race to a second-place team finish at the Ohio D-III State Championship in 2014.
Wentworth is the daughter of Ira and Amy Wentworth and plans to major in mathematics and finance at Taylor. Wentworth earned Valedictorian honors from Garaway High and was a four-time Academic All-Ohio performer in the classroom.
"I chose to attend Taylor because it seems like the perfect place for faith, learning and athletics to all come together," said Wentworth.
Valerie Wierenga / Grandville, MI / Grandville HS / Liberty University
Wierenga will transfer to Taylor after earning All-Big South honors during her freshman season at NCAA Division I Liberty University. Prior to helping the Flames claim the Big South Championship, Wierenga excelled at Grandville High by setting program records in the 1,600, 3,200, 5,000 and 4x800-meter relay, while racking up a total of five conference championships and four regional championships in cross country and track. Wierenga also earned a trio of All-Michigan honors, 10 all-region honors and six all-conference nods, while serving as a team captain and earning team MVP honors during her career. In addition to the honors, Wierenga was also a two-time member of Team Michigan in the Mid-East Cross Country Championship.
Wierenga is the daughter of Jim and Sheila Wierenga and the sister of Katie, who closed her career at Taylor with NAIA All-American honors for the women's soccer program in the fall. Wierenga will major in biology while in Upland, after serving as the student-body president at Grandville High. Wierenga was a four-time Academic All-Michigan standout, earned the Scholar with Distinction award and graduated among the top-15 in her class.
"One reason I chose Taylor is because of the team and school atmosphere," commented Wierenga. "Besides academics, there is a strong emphasis on spiritual and personal growth, as well as a strong community. The team works hard but runs with joy and ultimately to glorify Christ, which in my opinion makes it distinctive from other schools."
Taylor Heath / Wabash, IN / Southwood HS
Heath is the daughter of Steve and Lori Heath and the sister of Haley, who is a junior on the Taylor women's cross country and track programs. Heath intends to major in business marketing at TU and will serve as the manager for the women's cross country squad.