Winneconne, WI—On Saturday the Williams men's cross country team put a whole season's work to the test at the NCAA Championships at UW-Oshkosh. The Ephs have been ranked second in the nation by the USTFCCCA since their victory at the Little Three Championships, but have only competed against one other top-five team this season: No. 4 Amherst.
Until today, Williams could only guess how they would match head-to-head with No. 1 UW-Eau Claire, No. 3 North Central, and No. 5 St. Olaf. North Central has been the most dominant team in Division III in recent memory, winning four of the past six NCAA championships. In the other two years, the Cardinals finished second.
In an amazing team performance, the Ephs finished second by a score of 135-144 to Eau Claire. No. 6 Geneseo State beat their seed to finish third with 209 points, just two ahead of fourth-place St. Olaf. Today's runner-up finish is the best at a national championship for the Williams men since 2009, when they were also second.
"All week long our guys looked good," said head coach Pete Farwell. "Despite midterms and the travel, everyone was focused and relaxed. Before the race we coaches talked with every athlete individually and we could tell they were ready for a great race."
While a big winter storm descended upon parts of the Midwest, Winneconne was clear. At race time, the temperature was a crisp 30 degrees but there was no wind to speak of. The day started auspiciously when the Williams women took the national title by 98 points over Geneseo State. Additionally, T-Bear made his triumphant return to the Ephs. The Bear was stolen by Tufts at the Purple Valley Classic in September and spent the rest of the fall in Medford.
|Bijan Mazaheri '16
finishing 3rd/Courtesy of NCAA
The 8k race got out quickly over the flat, firm surface at Lake Breeze Golf Club. Ian LaMere of UW-Platteville took the lead from the start and never looked back. Halfway through the race, LaMere had already built up a lead of over 100 meters. He took home the individual title in 23:35, a full 40 seconds ahead of the next finisher.
Behind LaMere, the chase pack featured the best runners from the top five ranked teams: Josh Thorson of UW-Eau Claire, Bijan Mazaheri '16 of Williams, Zack Plank of North Central, Mohamed Hussein of Amherst, and Jake Campbell of St. Olaf. With 1k to go, Thorson and Mazaheri pulled away from the rest and battled it out to the finish. When it came down to the kick, Thorson came through as the runner-up in 24:15 and Mazaheri took third in 24:21. Plank would take fourth in 24:26 and Campbell finished fifth in 24:31.
"Bijan ran a perfect race," extolled Coach Farwell. "He was smart to not go out with LaMere and instead run his own race. Placing in the top three in the country is beyond phenomenal."
With the top teams each placing runners in the top five, the national title would be won by the team with the best depth. Depth has been the Ephs' strength all season and today was no exception. Ben Decker '18, Peter Hale '17, and Todd Ford '16 grouped up together from the start, with Griffin Colaizzi '18, Noah Williams '17, and Kyle Kistinger '16 not far behind. But when Decker and Colaizzi began to fall back after 5k, Williams was there to fill in. He went from 81st at 4k to finish 40th overall as the Ephs' fourth man.
Hale moved all the way up to 16th place to finish as Williams' second All-American in 24:42. He has run faster and faster every week since the NESCAC Championships, lowering his personal best 8k time in each race.
"Peter has peaked very well," Farwell commented. "It shows how hard he's worked this summer and throughout the season."
Eph co-captain Todd Ford ended his cross country career on a high note with a 39th place finish in 25:06. Noah Williams was right behind in 40th place also running 25:06.
"Noah made a huge breakthrough today," said Coach Farwell. "He's very strong, he's worked hard, and he's going to be one of our go-to guys next year."
Griffin Colaizzi was Williams' fifth man and took 91st in 25:29. Ben Decker was 105th in 25:33 and Kyle Kistinger finished 188th in 25:58. Despite fading a bit during the race, Colaizzi and Decker were the highest finishing fifth- and sixth-man pair of any team in the field.
"Ben and Griffin competed hard, pushing all the way, and although it may not have been their absolute best race of the season they kicked in with all they had," Farwell noted. "Kyle was a little rusty having not raced in three weeks but similarly gave a full Eph effort. This is an incredible team accomplishment. Being the second place team in the country is an outstanding accomplishment."
The Ephs' top seven have been training since May with the NCAA Championships in mind. Today, they saw their hard work come to fruition. Together with the women's victory, this was the best ever combined national championship finish for Coach Farwell and the Williams program. The Ephs are the first team since 1990 to place both genders in the top two at the NCAA Championships.