Crossing the country on the way to nationals, the Sagehens seek their third NCAA title

Lucas Florshem PO ’24, who finished 2nd, leads a pack of runners including the race’s winner, Derek Fearon PO ’24 at the men’s cross country SCIAC Championship Courtesy: Pomona-Pitzer Athletics

For the Pomona-Pitzer men’s cross country team, the SCIAC and Regional Championships are crucial steps towards making a run at Nationals. After dominating both, they may be on their way to a triple crown and third national title in a row. 

The Sagehens took home the SCIAC Championship on Oct. 29 and the NCAA West Region Championship last Saturday. A group of juniors — Derek Fearon PO ’24, Lucas Florsheim PO ’24 and Ian Horsburgh PO ’24 — swept the podium, leading to the conference title victory. Florsheim stayed hot at regionals by taking home first place, while seven other Sagehens landed in the top 13 of 160 runners.

Fearon, who won the SCIAC race, made sure to credit his teammates.

“It is cool because it is the first collegiate-level race that I won for cross country,” Fearon said. “I am more of a team guy myself. Something to note if you watched the race is that my teammate Lucas, who finished second, did all the work. I am excited that I got the SCIAC champion, but more importantly, we worked together to achieve that.”

Expanding on how he worked with his teammates to capture victory, Fearon described their strategy to success.

“The source of our success is teamwork,” he said. “Our ability to do what we call ‘pack running’ is the strategy that we have. We won our last National Championship by having a tight pack like five or six runners all running together. That means that we all work together, distribute the workload evenly and … practice with our teammates every day.”

Interim head coach Kyle Flores, named NCAA West Region Coach of the Year, further explained pack running.

“Pack running is the way to win,” Flores said. “It’s the idea that the closer you are within the race, the lower the time spread is and the more likely you’re going to have your five runners score the least amount of points. If you have five to seven guys with similar abilities and practice pack running, they are eventually going to carry each other during the race, and it will get you to where you need to be by the end of the race.”

Flores said pack running builds community on and off the course.

“The big part of the pressure is that you are not alone,” Flores said. “Every guy in the race has some doubts or fears, but this team is supportive of one another, and it [gives a] sense of confidence that they can accomplish their goals individually and team-wise. Running for each other and their fellow Sagehens is how they hold the pressure that they might feel.”

Zooming out, Fearon noted the importance of the team’s focus on broader campus issues. Earlier this season, the team waged an effort to support Pomona dining hall workers in their strike and effort to earn a raise in pay.

“It’s good that we did well, but both P-P and CMS knew that the focus was on our workers on Saturday,” Fearon said. “We did our best to wear T-shirts, write posters and wear pins during the race that support the living wage of our workers. The focus should be on the workers, and hopefully that comes across.”

Jake Ballantine PO ’24, who finished 37th at the SCIAC Championship, said all runners are preparing for Nationals, even if they won’t be competing in the race. 

“The guys that don’t race Nationals — seven compete, nine keep trying because we have two alternates — do a couple of time trials after, so I’m personally trying to run a 3K PR on Friday,” Ballantine said. “And we were just doing our part to support the workers, specifically because the strike was at the same time as the meeting and allowed them to voice their opinions.”

P-P will be traveling to Lansing, Michigan, for the Division III National Championship at 12 p.m. on Saturday. 

While the Sagehens are ranked first in the nation, Flores said there is more to take away from this experience than a trophy.

“It is easy to say, ‘Just win the national title,’ but at the same time, we’re on the same page that despite having the races of their lives, they are not necessarily going to win,” Flores said. “A lot of things are out of control, so focus on what we can control, like workouts, mileage, nutrition, and sleep … Otherwise, when it comes to their mental state, just keep them focused on the day-to-day grind and make sure that they enjoy practice and have fun.”

For Flores, regardless as to how nationals goes, it is the team at the end of the day that means the most. 

“We’re a family — so [we] also make sure that we enjoy each other’s company and prepare for the next few meets.”

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