After a fantastic run at the New England Regional championships last week made them eligible for the Division III National Championships, the Wesleyan men’s cross country team travelled to Wisconsin this weekend for what was to be the final chapter of an overall terrific season. Competing at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, the Cardinal runners braved the chilly conditions during their 8000m race at Lake Breeze Golf Club. Coming into the race, Wesleyan was ranked 17th in all of Division III, but had an exceptional showing to place 11th in the country out of 32 teams.
The 11th place finish is the highest in school history for the men’s cross country program. The Cardinals, who finished one spot behind Tufts last week, were able to turn the tables on the Jumbos at nationals, finishing over 100 points ahead of them. Amherst finished only one spot above Wesleyan, while Williams was a close runner-up to Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“To see so many people at this course had me quite aroused, but at the start I settled in,” said Keith Conway ’16, who finished 101st overall and third on the team with a time of 25:32.3, his best time of the season.
Despite the excitement of the occasion, the Cardinal runners did indeed run a smart race, mostly avoiding the hot pace to start the race. Through 2000m, Wesleyan was in 22nd place, but steadily moved up from there as other runners started feeling the effects of the fast start. Over the next 2000, the Cardinals gained six spots on the pack, largely thanks to their top three runners moving up a combined 135 spots.
“I’m not sure if our van had cruise control,” said Eric Arsenault ’17. “Actually, I’m quite certain it did.”
Arsenault finished in 25:46.4 for 148th overall and fifth on the team to round out the scoring for the Cardinals. Though it was later confirmed that the van did not in fact have cruise control, the Wesleyan runners certainly did.
Will Dudek ’17 had his cruise control turned up an extra few notches during the latter half of the race. At halfway, Dudek was in 88th place overall. 3000 meters later he was in 51st, and by the time he crossed the finish line he had moved all the way up to 37th. Dudek finished in 25:04.4, good for second on the team just behind teammate Taylor Titcomb ’16, who led the way for the Cardinals with his 25:04.2 finish to end up 36th overall. Dudek’s time was his best on the season as well.
Dudek, exhausted from the frantic finish, was still able to elaborate a bit on his race.
“The team sure earned [their] nut,” he said.
Though Titcomb and Dudek just missed All-America honors, which are given to the top 35 finishers, nobody was too worried about individual accolades.
“We’re fast and hot and wet and we raced like it,” Reid Hawkins ’17 said.
He finished 124th overall, fourth on the Wesleyan squad, in a time of 25:38.8.
Not to be forgotten are the non-scoring runners, Dontay Downer ’19 and Tate Knight ’18. This youthful duo seems to be the future of the Wesleyan cross country and distance programs. Downer finished 233rd overall in a time of 26:17.6, just a few seconds off his time at New England Regionals last weekend. Knight finished 247th overall to round out Wesleyan’s runners at Division III Nationals.
Assistant coach Laura Pierce was very pleased with the team’s performance.
“The guys worked hard all season and ran a great race,” she said.
Conway was also happy with the end result, even if he was oddly aroused before the race.
“I think we all ran a great race,” he said. “To get 10th plus one place has me really excited. I [couldn’t] believe that Vice President Joe Biden fired the starting gun.”
Much to Conway’s disappointment, however, it was not in fact Biden at the race, but a local man who had recently won a Joe Biden look-alike competition.
The Cardinal runners will take a much-deserved break before ramping up their training again for indoor track season. The cross country runners will not race until January.