Williamstown, MA—This Saturday, the men's cross country team will compete in the 2017 NCAA Division III Cross Country Championship in Elsah, Illinois, hosted by Principia College. Coming off of their best performance of the season, a close 4th place showing at the New England Regional, the Ephs are ranked 22nd in the nation. Joining the Ephs in Illinois will be three other New England teams: 7th ranked MIT, 8th ranked Amherst, and 16th ranked Middlebury.
The Ephs are making their 24th appearance in the NCAA Championship race since the fall of 1993 when the NESCAC permitted teams to compete in NCAA post-season championship events. Head Coach Pete Farwell has guided Williams to each appearance, now in his 39th year at the Eph helm.
Williams has only missed qualifying for the NCAA Championship once since 1993. Yet at various points in this season, the Ephs' qualifying for the meet looked dubious as a string of unrelated illnesses and injuries afflicted top runners and those likeliest to take their place. With that in mind, Farwell was proud of his team's resilience in qualifying, saying, "it was a milestone accomplishment by the team making nationals with a gutsy race by all at regionals. They've overcome numerous challenges through the season, and kept focused and positive throughout. We've really had strong leadership from our senior captains and a true 'one for all and all for one' attitude."
A year ago in Kentucky, the Ephs finished 9th in the nation. Two of the seven Ephs from that race will be competing Saturday: co-captains Liam Simpson '18 and Ben Decker '18 (a third captain, Griffin Colaizzi '18, will be first alternate). Each captain has had valuable championship experience, but took varying paths to the NCAA meet. Simpson has been regularly the top Eph this fall, and, injury-free since his freshman year, will be gunning for an All-American placing (top-40) as the culmination of a brilliant career. Decker, one of the top runners on all Williams teams since his first race freshman year, has recently been on a sharp upswing after dealing with several illnesses earlier this fall. Running in his 4th NCAA Cross Country Championship, Decker will aim to end his season on a high note.
Joining these two seniors are five others who will all be vital to the team's success on Saturday. After serving as the first alternate in last year's NCAA meet, Ryan Cox '20 will be ready to compete this year. Every race this season, Cox has improved. 11th on the team at Purple Valley, 10th at Paul Short, 6th at Little Threes, 2nd at NESCACs, and 1st at Regionals, Cox's ascendancy will greatly help the Ephs. First-year Aidan Ryan '21, along with Cox, Simpson, and Decker, has served as the Ephs' top finisher at some point this season. Ryan can certainly cap a fantastic first fall with a strong performance. Mitch Morris '19 and Peter Kirgis '20 have each been Williams' most consistent finishers this fall, entrenched as scoring members. Each made it their goal earlier this fall to have their strongest race of the season come at the NCAA meet, and both are in position to do so. Nick Gannon '20, who served as the alternate for regionals, will compete on Saturday. With a strong pedigree in middle distance, Gannon has come into his own as a cross country runner this fall, bettering his personal best by over 90 seconds. He may be in position to score for the Ephs this weekend.
When looking to Saturday, Farwell was optimistic. "We're excited to take one more step up the mountain to a peak performance in Illinois Saturday and see how high our incredible pack can finish. The course is nice, but hilly, which suits our team and our training well. The competition is very strong this year from all regions and is a true test for the full 7-man lineup, but I think our guys will pass with flying colors."
The men's race starts at 12:00 EST. As in previous years, the race will be streamed live, this time by Flotrack.org.