During the two weeks in between the West Region Championships and Saturday’s NCAA Division II Championships, the men’s cross country team was focusing on getting out to a great start and avoiding being stuck behind too many people.
That was the plan. And then the first turn at Schenley Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania happened.
The Broncos finished 25th out of 34 teams with junior Eamon Smythe the highest placed of the team’s six runners in 64th place with a time of 34 minutes and 2 seconds.
“The conditions and the number of people in the race just kind of made it really difficult for us to follow our plan as much as we would liked to have,” associate head coach Wes Ashford said. “But they did well, I’m pleased.”
The start of the race consisted of a 200-meter straight line followed by a hard-right turn that created a bottleneck.
The muddy surface caused several runners to fall, creating a NASCAR-like crash scene as other athletes tried to avoid being caught up in the mess.
“We were on the slippy side of the hill,” Ashford said.
Smythe was on the outside for the first 200 meters and was almost forced off the course when it narrowed.
To keep momentum, Smythe ran into the barrier that marked off the course and spun off before continuing.
Freshman Alejandro Mariscal was not as lucky.
Running behind Smythe during the turn, Mariscal lost his footing and fell.
CPP raced six runners instead of the normal seven because freshman Jonathan Woolf and junior Israel Cardona both were unable to compete due to illness.
Some of those who did race were also feeling the effects of a stomach bug going through the team, according to Ashford. Only five runners finished for Cal Poly Pomona as freshman Tristan Sylva was unable to finish due to illness.
Sophomore Jeremiah Suzara was the second Bronco to cross the line in 92nd place with a time of 34:28.7.
Freshman Diego Arriola had been getting over an illness of his own for the last few weeks heading into Saturday’s race.
“I came in with little to no expectations,” he said.
The chaotic start was not the first hiccup of the day.
A restart was forced to take place after a runner lost his footing moments into the first start.
“We were kind of expecting it,” Smythe said. “We just knew given the conditions that someone was going to fall.”
While there was no rain during the race, Ashford described the course conditions as “bad” due to the entire course being muddy.
“They did well for the lack of experience that they have under these conditions,” Ashford said.
In addition to the mud, the course was narrow and hillier than any other course that the Broncos had raced on this season, according to Ashford.
Smythe was as far back as 84th at the 1,700 m split but worked his way up as high as 59th with just over 2,000 m remaining.
“The pack just gradually started to spread apart,” Smythe said. “The nice thing about cross country is that people tend to give way if you kind of bump into them.”
This was the first race that cross country did not place in the top five as a team.
Despite not finishing in the top 10 as was the aim according to Ashford, the fact that the entire team will be returning to competition next season means the difficulties of Saturday’s race will be used as a learning experience.
“It’s just the experience to know what to expect at a national race,” Smythe said. “All the other teams being loud, it kind of engulfs you. You’re not really expecting how loud people are going to be … you just got to keep to yourself and focus on what you need to and be ready for anything to happen.”
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