Men's XC team ready to defend title
September 15, 2009
Senior co-captains, from left, Andy Gregor, Nick Karwoski and Greg Leak look to lead the men’s cross country team beyond last year’s stellar performance in the Centennial Conference Championship and strong showing at the regional and national races.
It was another epic battle at Gettysburg.
On the starting line: the defending and perennial Centennial Conference champion of the men’s cross country title race, Haverford College. In the first 15 years of the conference, Haverford won the race 15 times.
Also on the line: Dickinson College. From 1998 to 2007, the Red Devils placed second in the conference eight times and finished third twice.
At the conference championship, held Nov. 1 at Gettysburg College, Haverford ran its usual nearly perfect pack-style race, with six men finishing in the top 13 in a field of 93 runners.
Dickinson ran better. The Red Devils five lead runners finished in the top seven, turning in per-mile paces ranging 5:09 to 5:16. Greg Leak ’10 won the 8,000-meter race in 25:37, followed by Michael Tarkoff ’11 (fourth, 25:53), Nick Karwoski ’10 (fifth, 25:56), Brian Krusell ’11 (sixth, 26:04) and John "Andy" Gregor ’10 (seventh, 26:12).
In a sport where the low score wins, and the lowest possible score is 15, Dickinson earned 23 points. Haverford finished second in the nine-team race with 44 points.
“It is almost too difficult to put in words the immense emotional feeling in observing such a monumental statement in our cross country program history,” said coach Don Nichter.
His runners ran as a group—only 35 seconds separated Dickinson’s top five—and won as a group.
“We had been running strong as a pack all season so the strategy was in place,” Nichter said. "We did not go out exceptionally hard at the start but wanted to keep our group up front with the Haverford group and other top individuals from other schools.”
At the two-mile mark, the Red Devils picked up the already swift pace, expecting Haverford to keep up.
“We kept driving hard to the four-mile mark,” Nichter said. “As the final results would indicate, very few opposing athletes were able to maintain this effort."
Two weeks later, Dickinson placed third out of 43 teams at the NCAA Division III Mideast Regional cross country championship in Waynesburg, Pa.—the best finish for the Red Devils in school history. The team advanced to the Nov. 22 national championship at Hanover College in Indiana, where it placed 14th out of 32 teams.
Back for more
That’s good news for the team and for Nichter, who would go on to earn CC Coach of the Year honors. The even better news is that each of the top five runners is back this season.
Co-captains Leak (of Chadds Ford, Pa.), Karwoski (Hollis, N.H.) and Gregor (Glenshaw, Pa.) are seniors. Tarkoff (Warrington, Pa.) and Krusell (Newington, Conn.) are juniors. Other top Red Devils at the conference title race, Langhorne, Pa.’s Ted MacDonald ’12 (22nd in 26:51) and Bethesda, Md.’s Dylan Straughan ’12 (39th in 27:32) add to the team depth. For Leak and the rest, the foundation is in place for another stellar season.
“We want to win the conferences again, win regionals, and get top three at nationals,” said Leak, a biology major and ROTC cadet.
Leak is the first Red Devil to win the men’s conference title race. He finished second at the Mideast Regional Championship, the best showing for an individual in the history of the men’s cross country program at Dickinson.
Leak and the rest of the team opened this season where they left off last fall. Last week Leak was named the CC Runner of the Week after placing second at the Shippensburg Invitational on Sept. 5. The Red Devils team, which also finished second at the invitational, is ranked ninth in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division III National Poll.
Gregor, an international business & management major, said the team’s goal is to improve on last year’s unprecedented success.
“We want to get coach Nichter on the podium” at nationals, Gregor said. The co-captains’ standout performance extends beyond the cross country course. Leak plans to continue running in the Army, and both he and Gregor said they are considering post-college careers in coaching.
Karwoski, an international business & management major, is looking forward to another fall with his teammates and classmates after spending the spring semester in Barcelona, Spain, where he studied, ran, sang and traveled.
He said the key to success this year is for the runners to compete at regionals and nationals as a pack, as they did at the CC Championship. More than a minute separated the top five runners at regionals and nationals, nearly double the amount of time separating them at the conference race.
“We need to close that gap,” Karwoski said.
By closing that gap, the team can relive the joy and satisfaction it felt after finishing atop the pack at the CC.
“It was a rare peak experience for our top guys to not only win the championship as a team but to also experience individually a complete physical, mental and emotional runner’s high,” Nichter said.