DIII Men’s Nationals Recap
MASON, Ohio – Maybe those red stripes signify heavy cardiac activity, as Al Carius has seen a few stressful nationals finishes in his four-plus decades atop the sport. Out of the 42 DIII men’s races that have ever been held, 15 of them have been decided by thirteen points or less. North Central has been involved in a whopping 13 of those tight races, going 5-8. (Particularly rankling must have been a stretch from 1988-96 where the Cards’ six closest second-places came by an average of 9.6 points)
This win was nearly identical to the 1991-1992 battles with Rochester. In 1991, Rochester beat NCC 139-147; the next year, NCC won 107-114 with Rochester second.
Last year, St. Olaf won 84-86; this year, NCC beat the Oles 130-143.
I was too busy doing whatever two-year-olds do to know exactly how the ’92 race played out, but its successor did not want for drama.
Just like in 2011, North Central had two guys fall early: Troy Kelleher and Ben Dickshinski ate it on the first turn. And we believe that St. Olaf’s Jake Brown took a tumble late in the race. Carius told me afterward that he specifically warned his men not to fall. That sounds to me a little like warning a cloud not to rain, but who am I to question one of the greatest distance coaches of all time?
Halfway through the race, St. Olaf was the first team with five runners in. In fact, as UW-La Crosse’s Derek Stanley told me (link coming later), La Crosse was contending for a while. But the Cardinals, particularly Zach Plank, Troy Kelleher, and Ryan Root, moved up, while the Oles, particularly Jake Brown, slid back. It was one of those rare cross country races where the winner was not readily obvious to the naked eye.
All the interested parties flocked to the electronic board near the finish line. Most people were wearing red hats with a white fuzzy ball on top. The initial unofficial scores showed the teams separated by two or three points yet again; after an excruciating ten minutes or so, it was clear that North Central had won title #16. Last year’s deflation and quiet "ohs" were replaced by this year’s elation and N-C-C chants.
13 of North Central’s 15 prior team championships came in a pair or a trio. With only one of their top five graduating, expect them to be right back here next fall.
St. Olaf won’t exactly be going home devastated. After the race, Phil Lundin was proud of his charges, saying “I guess we’ve come a long way at St. Olaf to be disappointed with a second place…So, what are you gonna say? It’s sport, and you have your ups and downs.”
The up: Grant Wintheiser can safely be called one of the greatest DIII cross country runners of all time. He joins Widener’s Macharia Yuot and North Central’s John Weigel as the only men in division history with three top-three finishes.
Yuot’s 2006 win was also at a meet hosted by Wilmington; he ran 2:25 and finished 6th in the Philadelphia Marathon the very next day.
Wintheiser laid a hair off the aggressive early pace set by Drew Padgett, and when Colin Cotton of Williams made the big move at 6k, the Ole was ready.
Other notes from the men’s race:
-I am legally, morally, and epistemologically obligated to mention that no one outperformed their national ranking more than 12th place Dickinson, who was ranked a mere 27th coming in.
-After heavy chatter about teams #6 and #7 from the Midwest getting excluded, team #6 from New England (Tufts) finished one place ahead of UW-Stout, the Midwest’s #5 team.
-Don’t be fooled by one data point, though. The WIAC and the Midwest are orders of magnitude tougher than any other conference or region in the nation. UW-La Crosse finished second in their conference, third in their region, and third in the nation. Four of the top seven teams were from the Midwest.
-The NESCAC might disagree with the conference point. Colby, Williams, Amherst, and Middlebury finished 5th, 6th, 9th, and 13th.
-There were two ties in the results. WashU beat Colby 192-192 on tiebreakers for the fourth podium spot, and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps beat Wabash 427-427 for 15th place.