Men’s Cross Country Prepares for NCAA West Regional Championships

After the announcement of Tuesday’s election results, America seems little changed.  Obama is in office for four more years, the Democrats have retained control of the Senate, and Republicans the House.  More importantly, however, the men of the Pomona-Pitzer cross-country team are still in a collective race-ready mindset as the NCAA West Regional Championships draw near.

To be held on the home course of Willamette University, near Salem, Oregon, the Regional meet (“Regionals” or “Reggies”) brings together all Division III teams in the western United States to determine who will qualify for the national championships…and who will find their season abruptly ended.  This year, the West Region is highlighted by two nationally ranked teams, as well as two others who are perennial nationals qualifiers, each of whom is in the hunt for one of the two automatic bids to NCAA’s next weekend.

Currently, No. 9 CMS leads the West.  Nationals team qualifiers last year, they are this year’s SCIAC champions and look to maintain their momentum going forward.  Carried on the back of Rafer Dannenhauer HM ’13, the Stags are certainly this year’s West Region favorites.

However, No. 29 Pomona-Pitzer goes into Regionals looking to avenge its 6-point loss to CMS at SCIACs two weeks ago.  Powered by a strong cadre of young talent, including 4 underclassmen, and led by the consistent front-running trio of Alex Johnson PZ ’13, Alex Johann PO ’14, and Ben “Science Guy” Girodias PO ’15, the Sagehens are determined to bring their A-game to Oregon on Saturday.

Given that their top 3 runners can all cover the requisite 8-kilometer distances in less than 26 minutes, and 4 of their top 7 athletes garnered All-Conference honors two weeks ago, the Hens are also optimistic about their upcoming race.  Johnson, for example, is a two-time individual qualifier to nationals, has multiple All-Conference awards to his name, and is looking forward to writing his name into the history books.  Said Johnson, “I’m hoping Saturday turns out well for us.  I know I’m in the right mental state: I believe I stated in a former interview that, ‘I prefer to the history-writing with my spikes on Saturday mornings.’  Well, Saturday morning is here, and it’s ours for the taking.”

Indeed, former teammate Luke Willert PO ’13 said, “I think they’ll crush it Saturday.  Really, it’s my opinion that they’d have to [screw] up pretty badly to not make it to natties [Nationals].”

The Stags and ‘Hens won’t solely be at each other’s throats, though.  Eyes will certainly be cast about, searching for other challengers; previous nationals team qualifiers looking to secure a berth the to big dance include Occidental College, Willamette University, and Colorado College.  Granted, Occidental and Colorado seem to be struggling to some degree this year in light of losses to graduation, but Willamette recently climbed to second in the regional rankings in the wake of their winning yet another Northwest Conference team title.  Therefore, expect Parker Bennett (Willamette ’14) and the rest of the Bearcats – like Mitt Romney – to battle fiercely for a last-minute victory or qualifying spot to NCAA’s.

Meanwhile, the regional meet also offers a chance to individuals to qualify to NCAA’s alone; by being one of the 7 fastest athletes not going to nationals as part of a team, a runner can earn himself a spot on the starting line at Terre Haute, Ind., in two weeks time.  However, because the West Region is expected to send only 2 teams – or at most, 3, if some team earns an at-large bid – to nationals, the race for the individual berths is likely to be amongst athletes from the schools named above.  Thus, the race for the individual title will be of greater interest, instead.  Dannenhauer is the top returning athlete from last year’s championships, however, he was pushed to the limit two Saturdays ago by Johnson, so expect a rubber match between these two.  Add Willamette’s Bennett, Alex Forbess of La Verne, Brian Sutter CM ’13, and a slew of other contenders to the field, and Saturday looks to be one – like Tuesday’s election – for the ages.

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