Men’s cross country raced to fourth place at Div. III New Englands at Westfield State, sealing up a berth in this weekend’s Div. III NCAA championship and earning four all-region certificates in the process. Paced by Chris Lee ’14, the men scored 113 points to finish just behind Middlebury (91), Bowdoin (101) and Bates (105), but ahead of NESCAC champion Tufts (114).
Warm fall weather dried up the season’s first snow by Saturday, making for comfortable conditions and firm footing on Westfield State’s course. Runners benefited from a largely flat race consisting of a couple of field loops, a two-mile loop through the woods and a final 800-meter dash to the finish.
With 51 teams and 324 runners participating in the meet, the Ephs sprinted out of the gate to avoid getting swallowed up by the field. A quick bottleneck added to the challenge, halting many runners in their tracks.
Tri-captains Scott Rodilitz ’13 and Wade Davis ’13 adeptly worked their way to the front early on, avoiding these pitfalls. Lee and Max LaBerge ’14 set close behind, in position to move up as the field strung out.
Kyle Powers of Lyndon State broke the race open around the second mile, putting 50 meters on the field as the runners entered the woods. The Eph leaders, among others, patiently tracked the leader through the loop.
As the runners entered the final couple miles, Lee picked up his cadence as he closed the gap on Powers and a few other frontrunners. This set up a thrilling finish with 10 runners in contention for the individual title, including NESCAC champion Coby Horowitz of Bowdoin and last year’s track All-Americans Michael LeDuc of Conn. College, Jack Davies of Middlebury and Matthew Rand of Tufts.
With 200 meters left, Horowitz surged to the lead on the strength of his patented kick, but he was quickly marked by Davies and fellow Polar Bear Samuel Seekins. The three made a wild charge to the tape, with the outcome in doubt even after they crossed the line. In the end, the clock placed Horowitz in first, narrowly out-leaning Seekins and Davies.
Lee closed strongly in his own right, passing Powers to take eighth place in 25:02 and earning a second straight All-Region certificate in the process. Right behind him, Rodilitz and Davis dueled to the finish, taking 13th in 25:12 and 14th in 25:13 respectively. LaBerge weaved his way through the field for a thrilling 30th place finish, adding to the total of All-Region performers.
At this point, the men’s Div. III NCAA qualifying hopes hung in the balance, as they awaited their fifth runner. Rookie Bijan Mazaheri ’16 proved to be the man of the hour, sealing the deal with a 48th-place finish, edging Bridgewater State’s Stephen Wahome. Mazaheri’s finish boosted the men’s total to113 points, just one point above NESCAC rival Tufts. Aldis Inde ’15 continued his strong return from a stress fracture to place 58th for the Ephs, while tri-captain Brandon Abasolo ’13 earned 63rd despite illness.
“From the gun, we had a solid pack controlling the front of the race, and we executed our race plan perfectly,” Davis said. “As a team, we competed much better than NESCACs, and Saturday’s performance bodes well for Nationals [this] weekend. There are five New England teams with a shot at the podium, and defeating Tufts’ NESCAC Championship team shows that we’re in the mix.”
Head Coach Pete Farwell ’73 also saw this weekend as an encouragement prior to Nationals. “Our top four all improved this week with stellar races and have even more in them,” he said. “Our next three will close the gap on them to provide us with seven potential scorers, of whom five will eventually count. The team has a great base of training and is now at peak capacity. We are healthy, sharp, mentally focused and positive, and raring to go for a fun, fast Nationals.”
Having qualified for Div. III Nationals, the men will leave for Terra Haute, Ind., early Thursday morning to get acquainted with the acclaimed LaVerne Gibson Course before Saturday’s race. Going into the meet, the NCAA has Haverford, Calvin and North Central as the prohibitive favorites. However, the Ephs outperformed expectations at Regionals and should only benefit from a healthy Abasolo. Competition will begin Saturday at 11 a.m.