If this years crop of first-year athletes has learned anything from fourth-year captains Teage OConnor and Pat Hogan, its to never underestimate the power of a good example. Mens cross country and track owes a large chunk of its success during the 20052006 season to the quiet leadership of its two top runners.
OConnor and Hogan, along with classmate and co-captain Nick Juravich, are credited with uniting and leading the 2005 mens cross country team, which ended its season ninth in the nation. The duos persistence, collaboration, and diligence during training and competition created the kind of atmosphere that spawns championship-worthy squads. Their efforts bolstered the mens performance during workouts and meets and united a section of the track and cross country teams that was experiencing its share of cohesion and motivation problems.
The mens cross country team had gone to nationals during the 2004 season, Juravich explained. So a lot of the guys whod been on a national-caliber squad last year took that for granted and initially assumed they would be going to NCAAs again. But then in the beginning of September when it looked like that might not happen, Pat and Teage really had to step up and encourage everyone and keep the atmosphere positive.
With an infectious and genuine belief in the importance of teamwork, Hogan and OConnor encouraged the same tone in practice that had appealed to them during the previous three years. The Maroons benefited from the duos corresponding abilities and parallel interests. OConnor and Hogan were both somewhat reluctant runners in high school and could be called quintessential Division III athletes. OConnor began running competitively when he was six in elementary school meets but wasnt a terribly serious runner in high school. Hogan didnt compete in any distance events until the 10th grade.
I went out for my first season of cross country mainly because a friend of mine on the team wouldnt stop whining about it, Hogan said. I kind of loathed running until my senior year, and always saw myself as a swimmer first and a runner second throughout high school.
Chicagos size, academic focus, and some wooing from head coach Chris Hall brought the duo to Chicago in August of 2002 for cross country preseason where OConnor and Hogan found a very comfortable niche.
Preseason before my first year was probably one of the best months of my life, OConnor said. The seniors my first year were amazing and established a great team atmosphere. I think the seniors this year have tried to do the same. Were all really close and I think that, in the same way that it did my first year, that unity trickles down and encourages everyone else to bond.
Both athletes had the same training needs coming out of their respective high school careers, giving birth to a partnership that spawned two of Chicagos more productive athletic careers. OConnor and Hogan have taken all-region and all-conference honors and earned multiple opportunities to run at nationals for cross country and track.
Hogan and OConnor are appreciably nonchalant about the copious awards and recognition theyve accrued during their four years at Chicago. Rather than highlight their myriad achievements, both OConnor and Hogan tend to skip any bravado and emphasize the pleasure they get from long runs, consistently improving and forming tight bonds with teammates.
As training partners, theyve been able to improve simply by running together, pushing one another to work harder and improve. With a feeling of responsibility for the quality of a teammate, and eventually an entire teams workout, Hogan and OConnor promoted the team aspect of whats regularly considered an individual sport. Hogan and OConnor did workouts separately during the 2005 outdoor season while OConnor studied in Greece, but the duo reunited and led the mens cross country team at the 2005 national championships.
Id never had a solid training partner in high school, and I cant tell you what a difference it made coming here and having someone to help pull me through workouts and races, Hogan said. I know I couldnt have had nearly the same degree of success without Teage to work alongside.
Their routine was marred during the 2006 indoor track and field season when Hogan was sidelined with an injury. He eventually bounced back toward the end of outdoor competition, scoring eighth place in the 10k at the fiercely competitive Dr. Keeler Invite. With his versatile approach to training, OConnor was able to maintain a high level of performance in practice and competition. He met the NCAA provisional standard in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, the event in which he placed 13th at the 2004 National Championships. Hogans absence, however, was palpable.
Seeing him on the elliptical trainer when the rest of us were going out for a run, OConnor said, shaking his head at the memory, it was kind of heartbreaking.
For Hogan, being relegated to the cardio rotunda took more of a toll on his mental well being than on his athletic welfare.
It was especially rough because running is my usual outlet and having to deal with the stress of a B.A. and preparing for next year without that was harder than it should have been, Hogan said.
But Hogan led by example yet again. Monotonous pool workouts eventually paid off when he was able to rejoin his running mates in Washington Park to train on terra firma and blow off some B.A.-induced steam.
Outside of athletics, the two environmental studies majors have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to activism and education. OConnor, who worked for the Neighborhood Schools Program, will head to Western Massachusetts to work as an instructor for a program giving disadvantaged children from New York City a chance to get closer to nature. Hogan, who taught in an after school environmental awareness program during his tenure at Chicago, will apply what he learned in classrooms of all kinds during a two-year stint as an educator in the Bay Area for the Teach for America Program.
Their co-captain and teammates have expressed gratitude several times over for the chance to train and compete with a team led by excellent athletes. Hogan and OConnor are grateful for the four years theyve spent becoming better runners and close friends. Although the mens team will lose a major cohesive influence on June 12, Hogan is confident the positive mood he and his co-captain worked to create during the mens team practices will stick around after theyre gone.
I do think the team will be in good hands in years to come, Hogan said. I really thought we got a great group of first-years this cross-country season, so Im hoping to scan the results pages over the next few years and see that were still ahead of North Central.