Ties between two teams are a rare occurrence in the sport of cross country. So rare, in fact, that the rules used to decide a tie are somewhat confusing, mostly arbitrary, and not at all fixed. Should two teams earn the same composite score with their one through five runners, more often than not the tie will be broken by comparing the place finish of each team's sixth runner.
Luckily for the women's cross country team, this method was not employed last weekend at the NCAA Division III Midwest Cross Country Championships in Colfax, Wisconsin.
The women's team tied with Washington University for the fourth and final qualifying position for the NCAA Division III National Cross Country Championships as each team scored 142 points to earn fourth place in the team standings. Yet they advanced over the Bears by virtue of a tie-breaking method quite different from the one described above.
Had the time of the sixth runner been taken into account, Washington University would have advanced, as their 6th runner finished in 55th place while Chicago's 6th, fourth-year Darcy Flora, was 74th.
Yet NCAA cross-country rules require only five runners to participate in a meet, rather than six or the standard seven. Given this, a tie-breaking rule involving a sixth runner would be inconsistent and potentially unfair.
As such, a complicated method of place-by-place comparison is used: the place finish of each team's first through fifth runner is compared, and the team with the most head-to-head place finish "victories" is declared the winner.
And Chicago prevailed. Here is how it worked:
Third-year Erin Steiner led the Maroons with an 11th place finish in 22:36 over the six-kilometer course; but she was beaten by Washington University's Maggie Garbow, who finished 7th in 22:21. Chicago 0, Wash U 1.
Next, second-year Jessica Winter finished 17th in 22:53, ahead of Washington's Elizabeth Harndon, who was 20th in 23:02. Chicago 1, Wash U 1.
Third-year Emily Kay then finished 35th in 23:21, but was behind Washington's Mindy Kuhl, who was 23rd in 23:06. Chicago 1, Wash U 2
But second-year Annie Sanders was right behind Kay, finishing 37th in 23:24 to beat out Washington's Andrea Moreland, 40th in 23:26. Chicago 2, Wash U 2. Still a tie!
Yet the fifth and deciding comparison was not even a contest as first-year Dilshanie Perera was 42nd in 23:28, far ahead of Washington's fifth runner, Lindsay Harkema, who was 52nd 23:37. Chicago 3, Wash U 2.
And that, as they say, was that.
Finishing in the top 35, Steiner, Winter, and Kay also all earned All-Region honors.
UW-Stevens Point won the meet with 76 points. UW-Oshkosh was second with 98 and UW-LaCrosse was third with 113.
Disappointingly, the University of Chicago men's team was once again edged out of advancing to the championships as they finished sixth with 165 points, 30 points behind the fifth and final qualifying school, UW-Whitewater.
Yet some Maroons still managed to advance three runners individually to the national meet, as fourth-years Tom Haxton and Patrick Sullivan, and second-year Teage O'Connor all placed among the top eight finishers not advancing with a team.
Haxton finished sixth in a time of 25:02 to earn the second individual qualifying position. Sullivan was 14th in 25:14 and earned the fifth individual qualifying position. And O'Connor was 27th in 25:37 to earn the eighth and final individual qualifying position. All three also earned All-Region honors.
Third-year Sam Jacobson finished 51 in 26:11 as the Maroon's fourth finisher, and fourth-year Karl Striepe rounded out the top five, finishing 67 in 26:30. First-years Emil Bojanov and Dan Raleigh finished 83 and 91 respectively with times of 27:21 and 27:29.
The NCAA Division III National Cross Country Championships takes place this weekend at Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana. The women's race will begin at 11 a.m. and the men's race at noon.