On Nov. 23, men’s cross-country finished seventh of 24 teams at the 2002 NCAA Div. III National Championship, held at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
Captain Karl Remsen ’03, Neal Holtschulte ’06, Andy Golden ’03, Bryan Dragon ’06, captain Chris Garvin ’03, Matt Winkler ’04 and captain Neal Hannan ’03 surprised themselves and the field, jumping nine slots ahead of their 16th-place ranking to land once again among the top-10 schools in Div. III.
With a muffled pop, a tide of horns and cheering rose and flowed alongside the approaching field of harriers, a mob 215-deep that moved in unison and was completely contained, from leaders to tail end, within a 10-second window.
Diehard cross-creatures from Calvin, St. Lawrence, North Central and the Wisconsin powerhouses brandished brass instruments and ran ragged from one viewpoint to another, their bodies bare to the cold and painted in school colors, some wearing union suits and capes, others grass skirts and winter hats, their voices already hoarse.
On the course, Remsen zipped to a place among the frontrunners, settling into a quick-footed rhythm and letting the pace whisk him along. Holtschulte, too, was moving on the outside of a second tier, little more than spitting distance away from Remsen’s heels.
“I saw Karl [Remsen] in good position and then I saw Little Neal [Holtschulte] almost right with him, and I thought ‘Oh my God, he’s out way too fast,’” said Mitchell Baker ’04, who had taken up post near the kilometer mark.
“I’d never seen him go out like that â€“ definitely in the top 30 â€“ and I wanted to yell at him to slow down, drop back, do anything but stay up there. But he just hung on. He never slowed down. It was phenomenal.”
Golden and Dragon found themselves at the back of the stampede’s front third, while Garvin, Winkler and Hannan drifted around the early hundreds.
But with five kilometers remaining in the 8K (five-mile) race, Golden accelerated and Dragon’s powerful stride slowed. Garvin motored ahead until he was in contact with his first-year teammate and got Dragon to stay on his shoulder.
“You guys have to get Bryan moving again,” Head Coach Pete Farwell said over the radio. “He has to hang onto Chris â€“ he can’t let him go. Bryan’s got plenty left in him, he just needs to regroup. See if Winkler can help them out.”
Eli Lazarus ’04 met the runners in the middle of the fourth mile, near the base of a long, gradual climb back toward the St. Olaf athletic complex and the finish. Trinity’s Ryan Bak had broken away and gapped the chase pack by several seconds, Remsen among them.
Holtschulte was strong in the top 30, holding his own among former all-Americans and fast shooters from the Midwest and Great Lakes. Golden had made up ground, but was now well ahead of Garvin and Dragon, and Winkler and Hannan were still farther out of range.
With 400 meters remaining, Remsen began to lose ground by fractions of a stride to an oncoming cluster behind him that included Jim Emord from Trinity, Calvin’s Hendrik Kok and Nate Brigham of Tufts.
The harriers whipped back toward the throng of spectators lining the race fence, made a sharp righthand turn up a steep, 15- meter bank, and gunned 80 meters to the finish chute with whatever they could summon. Remsen could find no higher gear, unable to respond as five jerseys outstripped him in the last 30 meters.
But there was Holtschulte, leaning forward and hurtling toward the chute, surely an All-American and only seven seconds back from Remsen.
Golden arrived somewhere on the fringe of the top 40 and Dragon and Garvin, finishing together, followed somewhere just outside the top 100.
Winkler and Hannan might have been no more than 50 runners back from Garvin, but with 30 people streaming across the line every 10 seconds, no one knew anything for sure.
Lazarus caught up with Holtschulte in the eddy of spectators and spent racers beyond the barriers. The first-year teetered through the crowd, walking in tiny, slack-legged steps. He saw Lazarus and broke into a wide grin, his face shining.
He took a deep breath and spoke slowly, starting to laugh. “I am so happy with that race,” he said.
Golden wandered over to the Williams corner, his eyes empty. “I couldn’t do any more,” he said. “That was everything I had. I couldn’t go any faster. That was all I had.”
“That’s all there is,” Baker said, handing him a bottle of water and leading the group off to collect their warm-ups. No one would see results until after the women’s race.
By rough calculation, the men had likely landed around 10th, probably no higher. With two All-Americans and a third man fairly close, however, they had surely redeemed their 16th-place finish from 2001.
The Williams men stood around in quiet groups, talking with each other and contingents from other New England teams, waiting for official word of team scores.
“We’re seventh! Men are seventh!” Hannan called, galloping over from the wall of posted results. “They just put it up! Bowdoin was eighth â€“ we’re the top team from New England!”
Indeed, Remsen took 14th in 25:31.5, earning first-team All-American honors, and Holtschulte placed 22nd in 25:38.8 to seal an All-American certificate and status as the top freshman in the race, establishing the highest finish for a Williams first-year at nationals since Marzuki Stevens ’96 took 48th in 1992.
Furthermore, packing analysis later revealed that Remsen and Holtschulte combined for the best pairing of one-two runners behind Oshkosh’s David Cisewski and Nick Boehlke. Golden came through 50th in 25:57.4, Dragon 135th in 26:45.3, Garvin 136th in 26:45.9, Winkler 166th in 27:09.0 and Hannan 178th in 27:22.4
Once officials removed individuals from the results to generate team scores, Williams accounted for 6th, 12th, 35th, 101st, 102nd, 124th, and 135th for an adjusted total of 256 points.
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh won the title with 66, Calvin was second with 122, North Central third with 146, and Nebraska-Wesleyan, Willamette and Wisconsin-La Crosse claimed fourth through sixth. Keene finished 12th, high enough for New England to retain its four-team quota.
For Remsen, Golden, Garvin and Hannan, the day at St. Olaf was the first time since their freshman year that all had raced together.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without this team,” Hannan said on Monday, back on the Williams campus and all too aware of his civilian clothes. “I’m not ready to go.”