As Joe Kingsbery ’08 vomited on the sidelines, the rest of the team seemed sick from its performance in Indiana this weekend.
The Bulldogs finished 28th in the 34-team field this weekend at NCAA Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., plagued by an imposing field and a series of unfortunate breaks.
Colorado led the way, winning handily with 70 points. The Buffalos were followed by Notre Dame, Florida, Iowa and the University of Portland. Liberty’s Josh McDougal took the individual title in the meet’s White Race, distancing himself from the pack and finishing in 23:12.
Ninety-four places and nearly two minutes later, Andrew Pitts ’07 crossed first for the Bulldogs in 25:11, continuing his recent resurgence from injury. Pitts was followed by Erik Brown ’06 (138th), Jake Gallagher ’09 (141), Jared Bell ’09 (158th) and Brian Gertzen ’07 (183rd).
Captain Patrick Dantzer ’06 was conspicuously absent from the Eli scorers. Suffering from a cold similar to one that had bothered him last year during the same event, Dantzer felt short of breath throughout the race and struggled to a 213th-place finish.
“I didn’t feel awful before the race so I thought I’d be okay,” Dantzer said. “But once I started I was breathing shallowly and it was pretty much a death march for the next four miles.”
Bell said the team felt the impact of Dantzer’s absence most late in the race.
“I don’t think it changed things a lot, even though he’s a scorer,” Bell said. “But the thing that affected us most was that he wasn’t there to solidify the pack we wanted at three miles.”
Dantzer was not the only one feeling under the weather. Kingsbery vomited mid-race, an occurrence not uncommon during a cross country meet. What was unusual was the fact that judges forced him to withdraw, pulling him under the ropes and out of the race.
The major positive of the meet was Pitts, who ran his second race since returning from injury.
“The goal for the race was to find out what sort of shape I’m in so when we run at Heps we’ll know where we are and won’t just be running an experiment,” Pitts said.
If there is any place to find out what kind of shape a runner is in, Pre-Nationals is it. The field is monstrous — the men’s side was broken into two races, White and Blue, each with well over 200 runners — and the pace is consistently breakneck. With such a high concentration of the best runners in the country, each runner must get out of the gates quickly to establish a position and avoid getting lost in the chaos.
Pitts said the men’s White Race proved especially tough, as its winner, McDougal, finished 18 seconds ahead of the Blue Race’s fastest harrier.
“Josh McDougal went out on the first mile in 4:30 and dragged everything up with him,” Pitts said. “A lot of people just died at the 5K mark.”
Dantzer said he was impressed with Pitts’ ability to hang tough despite the fast pace.
“This weekend was definitely a step forward for him,” Dantzer said. “He really went out hard, tested himself, and took a chance.”
Facing such tough competition provided a barometer with which to gauge the rest of the season’s goals. Several runners said they want the team to finish in the top three at Heps, the Ivy League championship held in two weeks in New York City where Dartmouth will be the clear favorite.
Dantzer said he knows there is a lot of work to be done if that goal is to become a reality.
“I think if someone looked at our results this year they’d pick us second to last [ahead of Harvard],” he said. “But I think we’re ready to surprise some people.”
Leaving with such a bitter taste might also provide some motivation heading into Heps and Regionals. Only Harvard finished behind the Bulldogs at Pre-Nationals, and the sense of having something to prove rarely hurts a team. But until those races give a chance for redemption, the bad memories remain.
“It’s hard when you fly however many miles and spend all that money and just sort of waste it,” Dantzer said. “But I still think it’ll prove to be a valuable experience, especially for those guys who aren’t graduating.”