Saturday dawned gray, gloomy, and foreboding as runners from across the western United States descended on Claremont for the NCAA West Regional Championships.
Representing the hopes and dreams of many a team, the Regional meet is the one definitive way to automatically qualify for the NCAA National Championships, set to be held tomorrow. Certainly, the Regional meet was the ultimate goal of the Pomona-Pitzer men’s cross country team, as they had spent the last 26 weeks determinedly training for this one race.
Ranked ninth in the region as of Saturday, PPXC went through its usual routines: an early morning wake-up, shower, jog, and breakfast. Waiting for race time to roll around, captain Paul Balmer PO ’12 could be heard exhorting his athletes.
“The hay is in the barn,” Balmer cried. “Just get out there and do it. Today’s just another day at the office.”
Nine o’clock was soon upon them. As the PPXC women began their own race, the seven esteemed men of PPXC chosen for this last duty began to look toward the task at hand. Visiting alumni offered words of encouragement.
“We’ve always stepped up when it counts, and today counts,” said Crosby Freeman PO ’06, himself an Olympic Trials qualifier. Meanwhile, runners nervously began warming up and attaching bib numbers to singlets and timing chips to shoes.
A few last strides carried the harriers to the start line, and at 10 a.m. sharp, a gunshot split the still air of Claremont. Immediately, more than 150 young men charged across the start line on the lower soccer fields and out into the Pomona Wash. Spectators (including some 5C students who generously roused themselves at this early hour) began screaming, and would not cease to do so for the next 25-plus minutes. Teammates not entered in the meet began dashing around the course, trying to motivate, hearten, and otherwise encourage their brothers-in-training, not stopping their efforts until the race was done. Noise from iPod speakers and announcers boomed as the race unfolded, and the large starting pack strung itself out into those who felt strong, like thunder on the wind, and those who did not. And like every race, it was soon finished, another entry in the results archive filed away.
Unfortunately, just like the weather, the most of the men of PPXC were feeling gloomy about everything once it was all said and done. Having at one point been ranked first in the region for four consecutive weeks, the Sagehens placed a lowly fifth, despite their Herculean efforts, and some strong individual placings.
“I just tried to get out there and put in everything I had, knowing that if I ran the best race I could, I might put the team on my back,” said Alex Johnson PZ ’13, who finished eighth and earned himself an individual bid to the national meet in Wisconsin on Saturday.
Anders Crabo PO ’12 placed ninth and also qualified individually for Nationals.
“Yeah, I mean, it would’ve been great if the team had managed to have a really ‘on’ day. Also, I’ll admit that I’m feeling broken down right about now, but I really wanted to make something of today, and I think that’s what I can attribute my finish to,” Crabo responded when asked how the day unfolded.
Also competing for the Sagehens on Saturday were, in order of finish, Balmer (who unfortunately was the first individual non-qualifier for nationals), Alex Johann PO ’14, Pryor Stroud, PO ’15, James Muller PO ’13, and Colin Flynn PZ ’12.
Unfortunately, this means the end of the season for the vast majority of the team.
“Well, the goal is always to peak for Midnight Mile,” Balmer replied when asked what’s next on the schedule. Midnight Mile is a co-ed SCIAC mile competition held at midnight at Occidental College the Monday following the national meet.
“No, but really,” he said, “Gotta look to the academics, and then on to winter training and track now. We did what we could this season, and it didn’t work out, but we’ve grown stronger because of it. We’ll be back in the thick of things next spring, just you wait and see.”