Men’s cross country caps record-breaking season with 16th place at nationals

By Sean Ahmed

On Saturday, November 20, in a display of athletic prowess embodying the culmination of six months’ worth of blood, sweat, and ridiculous weekly mileage totals, the men’s cross country team made school history. Against the backdrop of a dream decades in the making, the runners laced up their spikes and stepped up to the line to take their final bow of the season on the greatest stage in Division III running: the NCAA national meet in Colfax, Wisconsin.

The Maroons flew to a 16th-place finish in a field of 24 teams and over 200 runners representing the country’s most elite competitors. The seven men running for Chicago—those same guys who can frequently be espied dashing around the quads clad in the tiniest of shorts—represented the first team in the institution’s history to break out of the notoriously challenging Midwest Regional Meet and qualify for nationals.

“Remember today, guys: you are not just doing this for yourselves. You are doing it for each other, and everyone back home in Chicago, and everyone who has ever been a contributor to this program and made it what is today,” head coach Chris Hall said to the men’s squad in a stirring speech just minutes prior to the starting gun.

Fourth-year class clown Jerome Tharaud led the Maroons through an eight-kilometer course—filled with draining successions of rolling hills and ravaged by cutting winds—to finish in 52nd place with a time of 25:31. The race marked the conclusion to Tharaud’s outstanding cross country collegiate career and his first national performance. He was followed by third-year Teage O’Connor (111th place in 26:05), second-year Brian Hague (114th, 26:07), third-year Pat Hogan (116th, 26:09), second-year Emil Bojanov (145th, 26:33), and fourth-years James Mestichelli (192nd, 27:13) and Sam Jacobson (199th, 27:19).

While the Maroons’ 16th place finish came as something of a disappointment to some members of the team, it is nonetheless an unprecedented achievement. “I was a little disappointed with the outcome of the season, because our hopes were so high going into nationals,” Tharaud said of the race. “But that doesn’t overshadow the fact that we did something no other team has done before. We gained momentum for next year and beyond.”

Despite finding themselves on a starting line surrounded by hundreds of runners from every corner of the country, the Maroons enjoyed enthusiastic support from dozens of fans who made the pilgrimage to Colfax. Teammates, students, and alumni turned out by the carload to join their cheers with those of the screaming hordes that lined the course.

The opportunity to compete at the national level sits as the crown jewel in an unparalleled season festooned with record-setting times and numerous triumphs, including a third-place finish at regionals, four All-Region qualifiers, and a UAA championship title. It also marks the beginning of what Hall feels confident will become a long-running trend.

“Our program was born this weekend,” Hall said. “Before, we were in an embryonic stage, but now it’s really come of age.”

Assistant Coach Mary Banker was also quick to reflect enthusiastically on the season, her first with the cross country team. “My favorite thing from this year was when you guys came through at the end of those tough workouts holding hands. You guys looked like Brad Pitt at practice.”

When asked to comment, all members of the men’s team hotly denied having ever held hands at any point during a workout.