Men’s Cross Country Runs to Second at SCIAC Championships

The San Gabriel Mountains behind campus are growing. They are growing slowly, but growing nonetheless. The San Andreas Fault—located an ominous 18 miles from the once-weekly PUB—is driving Los Angeles northwest toward San Francisco. We here in Claremont are slowly approaching San Francisco, and we will, some day in the distant future, be part of northern California. Yet in the time that it took Alex Johnson PZ ’13 and the rest of the Pomona-Pitzer men’s cross-country team to finish a close second to the nationally ninth-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags, the mountains behind campus had grown less than 0.000057 millimeters; LA was only a mere 0.00091 millimeters closer to sharing a bay with the home of this year’s World Series champions.

Facing off at Prado Park in Chino, the Sagehens competed this past Saturday at the annual SCIAC Cross Country Championships. Ranked 29th in the country going into the meet, the Hens merely hoped for a strong enough showing to help their Nationals bid, should they not qualify automatically in two weeks’ time at the NCAA West Regional meet. However, they did much more than that.

When the gun fired at 8:30 that morning, all of the SCIAC went charging down the grass of Prado Park, wearing small, brightly colored singlets and shorts. From the get-go, it looked like CMS had things wrapped up tightly; passing the one- and two-mile marks, the Stags had a strong pack grouped together leading the Sagehens. However, the Hens were merely biding their time.

Colin Smith—Occidental College’s top man—made a hard charge just after the two-mile mark, as he had at the Multi-Dual meet two weeks prior. However, the rest of the field was expecting just such a move, and, in response, the P-P harriers asserted their case strongly. Suddenly and dramatically breaking up CMS’s top pack, Johnson, Alex Johann PO ’14, Ben Girodias PO ’15 and John Fowler PO ’16 turned on their afterburners in an effort to reel the bold Tiger back in.

The valiant Hens did not stop there. Fowler, ignorant as for which conference runners he should be wary of because he is merely a first-year, ran fearlessly—like a man with something to prove—at the front of the pack with a bit more than a mile-and-a-half to go. Unfortunately, it would quickly become clear that he did not succeed in pulling away from the other competitors or breaking the race wide open. Nonetheless, his move would ultimately be good enough for a top-ten finish in the conference (sixth, in 26:12 over the eight-kilometer/five-mile distance).

But the story of the day had yet to unfold. As Fowler was once more swallowed up by the lead pack—which included teammates Johann and Girodias, who would each kick strongly to the line to garner First-Team All-SCIAC honors, finishing fourth in 26:08 and seventh in 26:14, respectively—Head Hen Harrier Johnson found some deep-seated reserve within himself and blasted to the front from 800 meters out. Vanishing around the trees that surround the park’s lake one last time, it seemed he had the title within reach as no one had really followed him. P-P runners everywhere were screaming, crying, laughing that, by God, today was their day. Even Anders “Doctor” Crabo PO ’12, calling fellow alum Paul Balmer PO ’12 from a small town in Ecuador, was emotional and unable to speak as he tried to picture the blue singlet and orange shorts of PPXC—the same singlet and shorts he had worn to two All-American honors—leading the SCIAC Championship race.

Alas, it was not to be. With 100 meters to go, it became apparent that CMS’s Rafer Dannenhauer HM ’13 had snuck up on Johnson’s shoulder in the woods; 70 meters from the line, from the clock, from twelve months of glory, Dannenhauer kicked with everything he had and managed to squeak by Johnson by a mere two seconds, finishing in 25:56. Nonetheless, as runners began streaming across the finish line, it was clear that Johnson’s effort and close, second-place finish was indicative of what the team as a whole had accomplished. Johann, for example, found it within himself to charge down two Stags in the last straightaway. Fowler, as previously mentioned, held on for sixth place in a race where every spot counts. Girodias held off three hard-charging Stags, while Pryor Stroud PO ’15 finished just shy of earning Second-Team All-SCIAC honors in 21st place to lead the Hens to within six points of upsetting one of the ten best teams in the country.

Needless to say, the race was the talk of the town for the afternoon.

As David Erf PO ’13, himself a varsity scorer for the Hens, said after the race, “This is what this year has been about. It’s been great to train with all of [the guys], but now it’s even better because we know just how good we are. I mean, look at what just happened: We should’ve been blown out of the water by the ninth-best team in the United States. And still we managed to dig our heels in, state our case and almost succeed in taking the whole damn thing out from under their noses.”

Even CMS was impressed. Aubrey Zimmerling CM ’13 commented, “Yeah, what was that? Seeing P-P leading the Stags through the first four scorers … it was like, ‘Uh, this wasn’t in the playbook.’”

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