The 2003 cross country season will mark both the beginning and the end of many things for the men's team. It will mark the end of the storied collegiate cross country careers of fourth-years Tom Haxton and Patrick Sullivan, and the graduation of what might be the best recruited class of legendary miler and former head coach of the Maroons, Jim Spivey.
It will also mark the beginning of what current head coach Chris Hall calls "the Nationals era." The Maroons have never advanced out of the competitive Midwest region and for the last three years have been edged out by margins of mere meters. This year five teams will qualify out of the region, and the Maroonscurrently ranked fifth in the region and 19 nationallyare in a strong position to advance.
The Maroons are again led by Haxton, the Maroon's perennial number-one runner and a national contender in both cross country and track and field since his sophomore season. Haxton finished 6th at the NCAA Division III Cross Country National Meet a year ago. He was seventh in the 5K at the 2003 D-III Indoor National Meet with a time of 14:38.31 . He finished third in the 10K in 30:17.10 and sixth in the 5K in 14:33.28 at the 2003 D-III Outdoor National Meet. On paper, Haxton is the fourth-fastest returning runner in D-III, and on the course he might be faster still.
Sullivan has always been better on the track than on the cross country course. A Division III national contender in the 1,500 meter run since his first year, Sullivan finished fifth in that event at the 2003 D-III Indoor National Meet with a time of 3:54.01 and then sixth at the 2003 D-III Outdoor National meet with a time of 3:49.38. He has been an All-Regional runner in cross country the last two years, and this year his aim is no less than All-American.
Along with Haxton and Sullivan the Maroons are returning five of their top seven from last season, including fourth-year Karl Striepe, third-year Sam Jacobson, and second-years Teage O'Connor and Pat Hogan. Along with these returns, Hall has recruited what might turn out to be an even better class than the one graduating. First-years Dan Raleigh, Emil Bajanov, and Brian Hague all should have immediate impact on this year's team. O'Connor said of the first-years, "They don't shower with the team as of yet, but overall, they're hot potatoes."
Of this year's men's team, Hall said, "Our men's team has been ranked all year long and appears to be answering our biggest question over the past couple of years, which is team depth. We knew going into the season that we'd have solid front running, but the contributions that are being made right now between our three through seven runners seem to be the difference this year. We still need to get better there but have the runners to solidify a position in the NCAAs."
Like the men, the women's team returns all but two of their top seven from a year ago. Leading the women will again be third-year Erin Steiner who finished 16th at last year's Midwest Regional meet, and will aspire to an All-American finish this year. Behind Steiner should be a very solid pack: fourth-year Darcy Flora, second-year Jessica Winter, and third-year Emily Kay.
The women's hopes for advancing to the Division III National Meet will depend on the development of a solid fifth runner. Vying to fill that role will be fourth-years Hannah Benton and Amanda Parrish, second-year Annie Sanders, and first-years Dilshanie Perera and Jackie Kropp.
"The women's team has always had good depth since my arrival at Chicago, and now our front runners are beginning to perform at a high level," Hall said.
"It's going to be more difficult for the women to get into the NCAAs due to less teams qualifying out of our region, but it isn't an unrealistic goal to work toward the NCAAs."
Both men and women began their seasons in grand fashion on August 30 at the Elmhurst Invitational in Elmhurst, Illinois. The men's team won easily, scoring 38 points to beat the host Elmhurst College (56 points) in a meet where traditional scoring rules were reversed. Sullivan won the 5K meet with a course-record time of 15:14.82. Haxton was third in 15:25.20, followed by O'Connor in seventh (16:00.71), and Raleigh in 12th (16:06). The women's team also won, scoring 55 points to Elmhurst College's 71. Steiner finished third over the 3200 meter course with a time of 11:38.85, and was followed by Flora in sixth (11:56.21) and Winter in ninth (12:02.85).
Two weeks later, the Maroons made the six-hour bus ride out to Decorah, Iowa for the Norseman All-American Invitational. The men finished a disappointing third, scoring 106 points to lose to both the D-II Minnesota State (40 points) and D-III rival Grinnell College (88 points). Haxton won the four-mile meet in 19:57, Sullivan was 9th in 20:22, and O'Connor finished 18th in 20:50. The women were fourth with 101 points as Steiner finished fourth with a time of 19:01 over the 5K course. Winter finished close behind in 6th (19:03) and Flora and Kay finished 27th and 29th respectively with times of 19:49 and 19:53.
September 20 the Maroons raced the Division III Challenge in Whitewater, Wisconsin, where they faced up against several regional rivals. Both men and women finished second to UW-Stevens Point, the men scoring 48 points to Stevens Point's 38, and the women scoring 56 to Stevens Point's 26. It was an impressive showing nonetheless for both teams, as they did beat UW-Whitewater, UW-Platteville, and Illinois Wesleyan University. Haxton and Sullivan tied for third place in 25:40 over the hilly 8K course and were followed by O'Connor in 11th (26:16.6) and Bojanov and Jacobson, 14th and 16th respectively. Steiner finished 3rd in the women's race in 18:44.1 over the 5K distance, and was followed by Winter, 7th in 19:07.5; and Kay, 11th in 19:27.6.
On Saturday, the Maroons had a homecoming of sorts in their fourth meet of the season, racing the Loyola Lakefront Invitational in downtown Chicago on the site of this year's UAA Conference meet. The men scored 194 points to finish fifth against all D-II, D-III, and NAIA competition, avenging both the earlier loss to Grinnell College (264 points), and beating fellow UAA Conference member Case Western Reserve University (289 points). The women also finished fifth in all non-Division I competition, scoring 217 points, and also beating Case Western Reserve, 15th with 480 points. Haxton led the men with a 13th place overall finish in 25:00, and was followed by O'Connor, 63rd in 25:58, and Bojanov, 91st in 26:17. Steiner was 26th overall in the women's race with a time of 18:28, and Winter finished 63rd in 18:56.
Both teams race again next Saturday at the Carthage Invitational in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Maroons will host the UAA Championship at Montrose Harbor on Chicago's North Side on November 1. The Midwest Regional meet will be November 15 in Colfax, Wisconsin, and the NCAA D-III Championship meet will be held on November 15 in Hanover, Indiana.