Author: Henry Meier
In the first edition of a two-part series on the dark underbelly of collegiate cross country racing, I sat down with members of the notorious Division III Occidental College Men’s Cross Country team to find out how they captured their second SCIAC championship in a row and to see what the future held for them. This is their story:
When I met members of the team at an undisclosed location somewhere in the western half of the United States, they seemed like a jovial bunch. Little did I know that barely a week ago this group of seemingly harmless men had literally dismantled the rest of the SCIAC in one of the more gritty performances Occidental has ever seen.
Winning is not a new phenomenon for this group of lean terrors. Last year they claimed the SCIAC crown as well after a dominant season all around. However, this year the road to their second straight championship was a bit rockier. Coming off a tough showing at the SCIAC Multi-Duals meet where Oxy’s men’s team had placed a disappointing second to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the team found themselves needing to find a new strategy and implement it at the fast approaching SCIAC championship meet.
Their strategy was a bold one: use a strategy. “We really hadn’t used strategy up until this point,” Senior Co-captain Galen Smith said. “After multi-duals, we know that had to change.” So the Tigers came up with a brilliant plan that eventually would lead them to victory.
On the day of the race, their secret plan in place, Oxy stood at the starting line staring intently ahead at the course they were now ready to conquer. When the gun went off, Smith and Keith Blumenfield (junior) flew out to the head of the pack and set a brutal pace for the lead group, which included many of first seeded Claremont’s team.
To keep the Tiger’s fourth and fifth runners pace up and in the top 15, Senior Co-captain and SCIAC Runner of the Year Kevin Chavez held back with the main pursuit group and urged his teammates to keep pace. Also running out to join Smith and Blumenfield in the first mile was John Wheeler (sophomore) who, according to Chavez, “Took it out like a f***ing G!” The early start put three Oxy runners in the top six, with David Martinez (junior) and the eloquent Chavez lurking in the background.
After seeing Oxy’s middle-of-the-pack runners off to a good start, Chavez kicked it up a notch and made his way to the front of the pack by the mile-and-a-half mark, putting five Tiger runners in the top nine and six in the top 15.
At this point the carefully crafted plan that Oxy had put together was working to perfection. Though Wheeler and Martinez faded a bit down the stretch, the psychological edge that the Tigers gained by dominating the beginning of the race truly paid off as the race went on. By the time the race got into the second mile Chavez and Blumenfield were running one, two and starting to distance themselves from the field with Smith still going strong at the front of the lead pursuit pack. At the half-way point, 2.5 miles into the race, Oxy occupied the first three spots with two other runners in the top 20. Claremont, however, was steadily holding five or six of their runners right behind the Tiger’s front three, making things interesting.
In the second half of the race, the beginning push paid off. The Tiger front three never looked back, opening up a commanding lead on the Claremont front pack, who were being chased closely by Martinez in eighth. Coming from behind was RJ Infantino (first-year), who moved into the top 15 and refused to give ground to anyone. In the last mile of the race, the Tigers seemed to have the race locked up. Chavez was maintaining his lead, and while Blumenfield had relinquished second to Smith, he was still holding third by a wide margin. Oxy took the top three spots in this order, with Martinez striding in still in eighth, and Infantino continuing his stellar performance by scoring in 13th. Robby Nelson (senior) was the sixth Tiger to finish, followed by Wheeler. The Tiger top five finished with an unbeatable score of 27 points to Claremont’s 36.
The strategy had paid off. “Never before had we been ready to race as a team,” Chavez said. “But by establishing the accountability we did, and running the race the way we wanted to, we were able to accomplish what we wanted.”
Nelson summed it up nicely: “The results speak for themselves.”
The Tigers are looking to build on this success in the next few weeks as they travel up to the Western Regional meet in Portland, and hopefully after that to Nationals in Northfield, Minnesota.
This article has been archived, for more requests please contact us via the support system.