Club or Die
Everything you missed at XC Nationals
I knew we were in for a wild one the day before the race even started.
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As tornado warnings and tropical storm rains flailed their way through central Virginia and the temperature report showed no signs of cooling down, I had a feeling that the folks toeing the line on Saturday morning (many of whom were coming from places where things had already cooled off considerably) were in for it. Lo and behold, it was a wild one — but what a day it was!
Alright, rhapsodizing aside, we saw some real cross country racing out there on Saturday. Pole Green made up for its relatively flat course with a hot, humid day, and several races (especially the 8ks) wound up as wars of attrition in the brutal Virginia conditions. The irony of this is that, as I write this, it is 27 degrees. I am wearing three layers. I am indoors. RVA delivered a dose of summer just in time to make your lives miserable for a day and then receded back into Novemberness. The course, as always, gets the last laugh.
Let’s get into it.
I got several messages last week that there was a frighteningly solid team out on the fabled “West Coast” who, despite their prowess on the grass, had slipped past my attention. Pacific Region champions Cal Poly were even faster than their Regionals times would suggest (California hills, apparently, don’t mess around). Well — they were right. Despite the cross-country travel1 necessary for them to make it to Pole Green, Cal Poly showed up and showed out on Saturday. In both the underclassman and the upperclassman non-championship races, Cal Poly runners took first and second place. In the championship race, their top man was #6 overall, but the team overall was strong enough to pull out a 2nd place finish. Consider me corrected!
In first, however, it was defending champs Northeastern who locked down another team title. The race went off fast from the gun, and Northeastern’s Cam Leonard, unsurprisingly, went straight to the front. He was followed by MSU phenom Achille Bogaert and last year’s runner-up, Illinois’ Eldon Warner. Within the first mile of the race, those three had separated themselves — Cam at the front, the other two hot on his heels. It was a gutsy race from then on, with Cam Leonard cranking down the pace and the rest of us wondering how long he could hold this type of effort in the heat. Bogaert attached himself to Cam and made himself unshakeable, locked in and remaining attached until the last mile or so. Eldon Warner was clearly having a great time, hamming it up whenever he passed his teammates and (according to some inside sources from the front) even singing a little bit at around 5k. He dropped off right around 6k, however, and based on his expression he was feeling the heat.
Over the last mile or so it became clear that Cam Leonard wasn’t going anywhere. Once he really started hammering, the gap that opened up quickly became insurmountable. He finished in 25:19 on what many suspected to be a slightly-long course, a full 15 seconds ahead of the runner-up. Achille Bogaert kept his head down and pummelled his way to a second-place finish. Everyone expected to see Eldon Warner coming up over the hill next, but it was Indiana runner Noah Scott who streaked into view. Scott had run a patient race and worked his way up methodically over the last 2k, overtaking Warner sometime in the final few minutes of the race. Warner still kicked his way to a fourth-place finish by 1 second, only just outleaning Northeastern’s second man, Max Manganiello. Northeastern had two men in the top five now, and once their next four finished in an unbroken line within the top 20, everyone on the sidelines knew they had it in the bag. Vincent Castronuovo, Alex Knueppel, Nicolas Ferretti, and Matthew Petrocelli finished 17, 18, 19, and 20, taking their team home for a second national title in two years and scoring 60 points to Cal Poly’s 188.
Virginia Tech, my declared favorites for the win heading into the race, still pulled out an impressive third-place team finish, the highest in Hokie history. Illinois took fourth as a team, and Purdue clawed their way onto the podium in fifth. I got 3/5 of the podium right, even if I got the order a little mixed up, but don’t fire me yet! Thrilling as the men’s race was, the women’s race was even closer.
When I call someone “almost unbeatable,” I don’t say it lightly. And, to their credit, the MRun women didn’t let me down. Proving once again that they’ll find a way to win no matter the conditions or the competition, the Michigan gals took home their sixth consecutive team title on Saturday. That, according to the MRun folks I talked to after the race, is the longest win streak of any sport in University of Michigan history. Again I say unto thee, D4 forever.
MRun athlete Ashley Heidenrich took an early lead and held on strong for an 18-second victory. Next was UVA’s Jenny Schilling, then Notre Dame’s Shea Aquilano. As runners began pouring down the finishing chute, however, it quickly became clear that a) a lot of people were having a very good day and b) my predictions were holding (relatively) strong. Watching from the finish line, I was confident early on that Michigan had it, and that UNC wasn’t far behind. I was also pleased to see that my pick of the Notre Dames2 was also aging quite well. VT's top finisher was #18, but their team was still collectively strong enough to edge their way onto the podium. It was Purdue, however, who caught me off guard, finishing their top runner at #13 and following her up strong enough to take fourth as a team!
The women’s Jr/Sr/Grad race, however, was probably my favorite from a spectator’s perspective. UNC runner Cate Schultz started absolutely hammering from the gun, and by 4kish into the race she had — I’m not exaggerating — at least a 15-second lead on the rest of the field. By the time the women went into the woods and out of view for the last time, her lead had done nothing to shrink, but by the time the runners reemerged with ~200m to go, Georgia Tech’s Alexis Wilmot had not only caught Schultz, but she was passing her — hard.
Wilmot wound up winning in 25:54, eight seconds ahead of Schultz, who just barely held on for second against UMass Amherst’s Delia Mahoney, who had also caught up in the last mile. It was, in a word, bonkers. I love this sport.
Last Saturday at Pole Green was truly a fantastic day, and a huge part of that was everyone who came up and talked to me over the course of the meet. Shout out to Faizon from Michigan3, Sean from Boston College, Sohan from Maryland4, the whole Tufts crew, Ben and Wyatt from Tech, and everyone else I got to talk to over the course of the meet. And shout out to NIRCA for putting on a great meet! I'd be following this sport no matter what, but it's y'all reading this that keeps me writing.
Also, I got some questions about the Reasonably Speedy shirt I was wearing, so I figured I’d re-plug the merch store. You can buy some gear here, and rep RS wherever you go. Also, stickers coming soon. Also, maybe singlets? I’ll get back to you on that.
One last thing — I’ll be taking next week off, both for Thanksgiving and to decompress post-Nats. But mark my words, I’ll be back with a vengeance just in time for indoors.
This is the greatest sport in the world. See y’all in the track season!
still trying to get that to catch on
and congrats on a great race!
I’m still working on the ‘stache supercut, don’t worry