SPORTS

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May 15, 2007

When it counted most, Hague refueled men’s XC

He wasn’t a captain. He wasn’t a model of consistency. Year after year, he entered the season behind where he could have been in his training. Yet year after year, when men’s cross country needed him most, nobody was more reliable than fourth-year Brian Hague.

“From a front-running standpoint, Brian has always been able to pull out great performances and to help elevate the team,” head coach Chris Hall said. “He was just able to deliver.”

Though the number one spot for the Maroons was far more frequently held down by classmate Emil Bojanov, Pat Hogan (A.B. ’06), Teage O’Connor (A.B. ’06), or Jerome Tharaud (A.B. ’02) during Hague’s tenure, he earned himself a niche in Chicago cross-country history by coming up huge when the weather got cold.

In three thrilling weeks in late October and early November 2004, Hogan finished hot on O’Connor’s heels at UAAs to cross the line 11th and help the South Siders win the league title for only the second time. At regionals, Hague ripped through the Rock Island course to finish 17th overall and pace his team to its first NCAA appearance since 1977. Finally, hanging with Hogan and O’Connor at Nationals, Hague claimed a 76th-place finish to lift Chicago to a best-ever 16th-place standing in DIII.

The next year, he did it again: 18th at UAAs to come within 14 seconds of earning his squad back-to-back league titles, 29th at regionals to help the Maroons clinch back-to-back NCAA berths, and a gutsy 141st at Nationals to help break the 2004 record with a ninth-place finish for the team.

Cross country slipped to fifth in the league in Hague’s senior season but through no fault of his own: His 10th-place showing at UAAs led the team. He then ran ninth overall at Regionals, the second-best showing ever for a Chicago runner at that level, qualifying him for Nationals as an individual. Waking up with a staph infection the night before that race, he finished in a brutal 29:57 for 227th place. One can’t imagine a less fitting end for a career marked by greatness when it mattered most.

“Typically, it’s important to have this tight-pack mentality, and Brian was good at falling into line with what the team goals were, but it’s also really nice at those championship meets to have those low-point scorers, and Brian always gave that to us,” Hall said.

“I tried to help out as much as I could, especially where I thought it mattered most, meets like conference and regionals,” Hague said. “I wasn’t always as even as I would have liked to be, but I always wanted to bring the team to a higher level.”

Ironically, Hague’s ability to come up big in late-season meets was almost certainly due to his divergence from the rest of the team’s training regimen. A serious competitive triathlete, the fourth-year usually recorded far less mileage than his compatriots over the summer as he worked out on the bike and in the water. To catch up on developing his running base, Hague would train through early-season competitions without a break.

“He worked hard, he trained hard, but if we had run him the amount of mileage we wanted him to run, he would have broken down,” Hall said. “I don’t think his running fitness ever really caught up with him until we got closer to the month of November.”

For three autumns in a row, the timing worked out perfectly. Hague was especially deadly at regional meets, surprising even his coaches with his stellar showing his sophomore year and crushing a number of past and future All-Americans his senior year.

However, Hague never individually reaped the rewards, falling short of the performances at Nationals that one might have expected from someone with his league and regional meet credentials. Like his teammates, he jumped out to too quick a start at NCAAs his second year and faded late in the race. He subsequently struggled with injuries his third year, and the staph infection all but wrecked his hopes of breaking through in his final cross country NCAA meet.

“I’ve always taken Nationals as just another race…. For my last performance, just finishing that race was pretty tough. I was hardly walking. I was going out to try to be an All-American, so I guess that was kind of a disappointment, but oh, well,” Hague said. “I think that’s a good story, so I’m fine. I have other national races ahead of me.”

That easy-going attitude has been the other hallmark of Hague’s cross country career. Coaches praised him not just for running great races when the team needed it, but for helping to keep up the spirits of his teammates. It seems an appropriate tribute for a star athlete who lists as his favorite moment heading to Quizno’s after a hard pre-season run rather than any of his moments on the course.

With most of his teammates at the end of their competitive careers, Hague may just be getting started. He intends to continue his triathlon training, with an eye on making the national elite development team and, in the long run, taking his best shot at the Olympics.