Former Jaguars anchor cross country team

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Former Jaguars anchor cross country team

Story by Sara

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After spending a decade as teammates, seniors Aaron Caldwell and Eric Larson ended their college cross country careers in a position they likely wouldn’t have imagined when they began running together in middle school.

As they crossed the finish line for the last time and heard the results of the NAIA National Championships, the roommates tackled one another in celebration of the team’s 10th-place finish.

While looking at the individual results from the race, it is clear that the efforts of the alumni from one Overland Park school have helped turn the Baker University men’s cross country team into the nationally-recognized program it is today.

The No. 10 Wildcats are led by a group of former Blue Valley West High School runners.

Caldwell, Larson and fellow senior Kellen Kristoffersen joined the team together in 2009, and freshmen Jeremy and Justin Bryan later followed by signing to run for Baker in 2012.

As high school seniors, Caldwell said he and his teammates weren’t necessarily looking to go to the same college, but Baker seemed to be the right fit for everyone.

“When we were first looking at Baker, it was one of the worst schools in the (Heart of America Athletic Conference) at the time in cross country and track,” Caldwell said. “But we saw a lot of potential in (head coach Zach Kindler), his running philosophy and coaching philosophy. We just really saw that there was potential for growth here and really potential for success, and we wanted to be a part of that.”

Despite having just one year to run with Caldwell, Larson and Kristoffersen in high school, Jeremy Bryan said the former Jaguars served as mentors to him and his brother throughout their careers.

“They taught us the ethics of working hard, giving everything you have in workouts and races and how to be a good team member and leader,” Bryan said. “It’s been wonderful to come to Baker and be able to run with and learn from them again.”

While Caldwell, Larson and Kristoffersen helped the Wildcats earn the Heart of America Athletic Conference title in 2011 and a 25th-place finish at the national championships, the Bryan brothers pushed the team one step further.

However, these five runners are not the first Blue Valley West alumni to have success in a Wildcat uniform.

Andrew McGregor, a Blue Valley West and Baker alumnus, graduated from Baker in 2008 after running as the lone senior on the men’s cross country team. He then went on to coach serve as the assistant coach for the Wildcats and helped recruit Caldwell, Larson and Kristoffersen.

“When I was there my senior year, I think we got last or tied for last in conference,” McGregor said. “So basically in five years, they have gone from being the worst to being the best. It’s really nice to see that and the fact that there is a personal connection is really meaningful to me.”

As he was helping recruit these runners to Baker, McGregor said he saw that the trio was willing to come in and work to lay the foundation for a good program.

“They were always willing to do more than they needed to do and that was the key for me,” McGregor said.

Kristoffersen said running with these familiar faces throughout his career has helped provide individual motivation and inspiration.

“Just to be there for each other and get to know each other through this entire process, words can’t really describe it,” Kristoffersen said. “They have always been there just to see each other succeed.”

Caldwell said running together for an extended amount of time has strengthened the team’s bond and created a familiar atmosphere for the Wildcats.

“It’s a family and I think that’s something that my class from Blue Valley West really brought,” Caldwell said. “We’re just a bunch of brothers who have a love/hate relationship, but we are really close and really care for each other at the same time.”