By Colleen Slattery
There is little better in life than to be young, healthy and out running beneath a clear blue sky, with an autumnal chill in the air and the crunch of amber, goldenrod and scarlet leaves beneath your feet. Whether it is a leisurely jog or a competitive race, it is almost impossible not to revel in the beauty of God’s creation during such a time. On Nov. 14 through 16, the University of Dallas men’s and women’s cross country teams took a trip to Rome, Ga. for a three-day weekend to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III South/Southeast Regional Championships, and although it may not have been a trip to the Eternal City, the competition was an unforgettable event.
The race took place at Berry College, famous for having the largest contiguous college campus in the world. The buildings are made of stone and brick, hearkening back to a past that seems more British than American, with steeples and domed windows that hint at proper English tearooms inside. Teams from all over the South dotted the course, marking it in patches of blue, red, black and white. On race day, the Crusaders camped underneath a tree, and the boys began to jog the course, slowly warming up cold muscles and fending off the early morning chill, a brisk 35 degrees.
The atmosphere was electric. There were nearly 30 complete teams at the meet, all vying for a chance to train for one more week and then go on to the glory of the NCAA National Championship. The men’s team picked up on the feeling immediately, and excitement grew as race time approached. Suddenly, they were lined up at the start line. The gun went off, and more than 200 runners took off on the looping course.
Junior Ryan McAnany bounded to the middle of the front pack immediately, and from then on out, he held onto a punishing pace. The lead pack was racing for a spot at the national meet, and this translated into personal records for many on the course, a mercifully flat one, free of the bane of a runner’s existence: mud. McAnany crossed the finish line exhausted but triumphant. His 37th-place finish in a time of 26:49 qualified him for the NCAA All-Academic All-American team and was just eight seconds off the school record. McAnany has never run better.
The entire men’s team came away from the meet with vastly improved times. Junior Javier Secaira and sophomore Guido Marasigan ran 28:06 and 28:44, respectively. Juniors Jack Grubner (29:04) and Zach Zendt (30:51) capped off the top five men, and senior Michael Klem hurtled to the finish of his last collegiate race in a time of 33:10. This effort from the team lead to an 18th place finish overall.
“The men’s team exceeded expectations,” McAnany said. “We came into the meet wanting to give it all we had and do our best to finish a great season. I’m really proud of all the work these guys put in. Coach Barber did an incredible job in his first year here, and I’m expecting us to come back even better and stronger next year.”
After the success of the men’s team, it was the women’s turn to prove themselves. And they rose to the challenge admirably. Senior Clare Myers, despite a persistent Achilles tendon injury, managed to place 49th overall in a time of 23:55, successfully breaking UD’s previous 6K record (24:01), which she herself set last year. This also qualifies her for the NCAA All-Academic All-American team. Myers, never one to be caught up with her own performance, expressed gratitude for the cross country program here at UD.
“It has been incredible to watch this program grow,” she said. “It started out from almost nothing, and now here we are, competing at NCAA Regionals. And it is due to all the hard work and dedication that everyone has put into the team. Really, I’m impressed with everyone who ran this weekend.”
The women raced better as a team this past weekend than any other time this year. After Myers, junior Ruth Fritz was the next to finish for the Crusaders in a time of 24:40. Next were “The Pacemakers,” seniors Colleen Slattery (25:10), Meghan Falconer (25:30) and Danielle Pajak (25:48). Juniors Elizabeth Hinchley (26:26) and Emma Polefko (27:08) rounded out the women’s team.
“This weekend was a very accurate representation of how this team works,” Falconer said. “We all have different talents and styles of running, but we’re good at coming together to achieve something greater. Running here at UD has been very different, very unique. We really made something new and special, and that was so amazing to see and be a part of.”
The women finished 16th out of 29 complete teams.
And so ends one of the most successful cross country seasons in UD history. Head coach Matt Barber’s first season has set a high bar, and this writer is certain that he will continue his success in the future.