After a season-long string of bad luck, the men’s cross country team finally got the break it needed at the IC4A Championships.
Mid-race confusion and several strong individual performances by the Bulldogs at Van Cortlandt Park Nov. 19 produced a solid eighth place finish, led by the continued resurgence of Andrew Pitts ’07 after nagging injuries.
Despite having only one runner in the top 22, Duke won the team event with 89 points. They were followed by Cornell and Notre Dame, who earned 112 and 127 points, respectively. Saint Francis’s Ryan Sheehan took the individual crown in 24:58.9, trailed by James Madison’s CW Moran (25:01.6) and Notre Dame’s AJ Andrassey (25:12.7).
Pitts placed 16th overall, completing the 5-mile course in 25:29.1. Erik Brown ’06, who will graduate after the fall semester, was second among the Elis, placing 41st in 25:58.0. Not far behind were Brian Gertzen ’07 (56th, 26:08.0) and captain Pat Dantzer ’06 (69th, 26:17.9), who is still recovering from a recently-diagnosed case of anemia. Eric Kerchberger ’08 claimed the last Bulldog scoring slot, crossing the finish line 106th in 26:46.5.
Although it was the last race of the season for most teams, several squads and individuals who ran at Nationals two days later were absent. The attitude at IC4As was noticeably different from that of past meets, as each team entered the weekend looking for confidence heading into winter.
“It’s usually hard to get up for that meet,” Dantzer said. “All the major races are over already.”
This was not the first time the Elis had visited Cortlandt Park this season. After racing there for Heps several weeks ago, they knew what to expect from the familiar track. The course is comprised of three pieces: a field to begin the race, followed by the back woods and Cemetery Hill. But heading into the woods, a previously unseen and unexpected element emerged: high schoolers.
A large high school meet merged with the collegiate runners as they entered the woods, causing confusion and presenting runners with a unique chance to move up in the pack unnoticed. That was when Pitts made his move.
“It was just chaos,” Pitts said. “My attitude was that I’m not going to let anyone pass me because I don’t know if they’re college or high school. When I went into the woods I was in about 25th, and when I came out I was in fifth, which was a great feeling.”
A couple of miles later, Pitts logged his personal record on the Bronx course.
For the Bulldogs, an eighth-place finish was a comforting way to end a season plagued by injuries and bad breaks.
Several of the team’s best runners were lost to injury — Pitts for the first half of the season, David Napper ’07 for the last races, expected scorers Jake Gallagher ’09 and Tadhq O’Callaghan ’08 to stress fractures in early fall, Dantzer due to anemia, and Jared Bell ’09 after an Achilles injury at Heps. With such a volatile lineup, it was unusual to see the same runners at the front of the Eli pack from week to week.
Dantzer said he was personally disappointed, but he knew the winter and spring still provided a chance to turn things around individually and as a team in his last year as a Bulldog.
Bell, who is back to normal training after several weeks of rest, said the next few weeks will help him and the other fall casualties recover both physically and mentally.
“You always need your rest after a tough season,” Bell said. “There’s a lot to look forward to because we all knew we were capable of doing well if it weren’t for injuries.”
During the beginning of the indoor track season, the Elis will be able relax and run long mileage before digging in during January. After the wear and tear of the fall, workouts will slow down for all of the distance runners to encourage a return to health and give the Bulldogs a fresh attitude. All except for Brown.
Because he will graduate early, Brown will compete in his first and last race of the indoor season this coming weekend at Coxe Cage, in which he will likely run the 5K. Several teammates said the whole team will surely be there cheering him on.
For Brown, next weekend will be the end of a career. But for the rest of the team, several seasons, if not years, remain. Dantzer said the team’s attitude heading into the upcoming seasons will be critical.
“Even though the season didn’t go the way we wanted, some guys really got a lot of experience for next year,” he said. “The key is not to get too negative.”