Tune in on Saturday, October 29 for an exciting cross country conference championship. The West Coast Conference (WCC) Championships are taking place at Crystal Springs in Belmont, CA. If you can’t make it to Crystal, the meet is to be streamed live at wccsports.com.
The highlighted showdown will take place in the men’s race, which starts at 9:00 A.M. The University of Portland has won the WCC men’s team championship an amazing thirty-two straight years. That’s every conference championship since 1979. Their streak is in jeopardy due to Brigham Young University (BYU) joining the WCC this year.
BYU arrives to run at Crystal Springs and in a WCC Championship for the first time as the third ranked team in the nation. Miles Batty has led BYU to a win at the Notre Dame Invitational and to a second place at the Wisconsin Invitational.
Portland, however, is no slouch. Led by Trevor Dunbar, Portland took second at the Pre-Nationals Meet and is ranked number eight in nation. Portland also has the advantage of experience and knowledge on the challenging Crystal Springs course.
Portland’s streak is one of the longest in NCAA history in all sports. Arkansas won thirty-four consecutive conference championships between 1974 and 2007, the first seventeen while members of the now defunct Southwest Conference (SWC) and the last seventeen as members of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Over the thirty-two years of the streak, Portland has also had the individual champion every year except 2007, when University of San Francisco’s (USF) Cheyne Inman edged out Portland’s top runner by five seconds. Current Portland coach, Rob Connor, was the 1984 WCC Champion, which was also the last year the WCC Championships were not held at Crystal Springs. The last team other than Portland to win the conference championship was the University of Nevada Reno, which won four straight titles from 1975-1978.
Some years Portland has been particularly dominant, scoring a perfect fifteen points (sweeping first through fifth place). They have done this nine times, including five years in a row between 1995 and 1999. Of late, however, the rest of the conference has been closing the gap on Portland. In 2010 Portland’s margin of victory was just seven points over USF and in 2008 the margin of victory over Loyola Marymount was just ten points.
Will Portland continue their conference winning streak or will BYU crash the party and win the WCC on their first try?
It is finally sinking in that the 2007 Varsity Boys team is most likely the fastest boys team in school history. :37 faster than the 2005 team that made State Meet. The first team I have ever coached to run in the 84’s. It’s hard to believe but it’s true. And I couldn’t be prouder.
I don’t know if anyone could have predicted this. I often talked about it being possible but deep inside I think I was saying it in an attempt to convince myself. There were moments when I thought to myself, no way can they be like the 2005 or 2006 teams…that this was a season that would be reminiscent of the boys teams from the early 2000’s (88 minute team times). I wondered if I had been spoiled the last 2-3 years and that I had better prepare myself mentally for the inevitable “return to the middle/back of the pack.”
But instead the 2007 team went on this rollercoaster of a ride….
When we started summer practices, sub-85 was not on my mind. We had just graduated Nick, Ethan, Justin and Colin. I was more concerned with getting 7 runners on the line that would give us a change to: 1) continue to beat Mitty and Riordan and 2) make CCS for the fourth year in a row.
At times during the summer, though, Tomas and I noted that the boys looked impressive. People like Michael, Jim, Joseph S, and Jared were consistently getting the runs done and at a solid pace. And I had confidence that Paul, Tommy, JJ, and Kyle, with their experience, would be ready as well. I was only half joking when I started saying that we were a motley bunch of guys who would scare no one during striders but maybe, just maybe, could go out and on sheer toughness, beat runners who were supposedly more talented on sheer toughness.
But there were moments I reminded myself to be realistic. I remember driving back from a summer workout at the beach and telling Christine that if we got to mid-season and the seniors weren’t getting it done, I would start looking towards the juniors and sophomores so that we would be ready for the 2008 season. I wasn’t giving up on the season before it even began, just being realistic and having an eye for the future of the team.
At the start of the season, for a variety of reasons (family vacations, SAT’s, nagging injuries), we never lined up at full strength. We looked OK at the meets but nothing that would predict the times that would come at the end of the season. At Oregon, we talked about having to turn up the intensity level of the training. I wanted them to feel a sense of urgency if we wanted to beat Mitty and Riordan and make CCS. At one meeting, I also told the boys that as long as we were working hard in practice and racing well, Jarrett would stay up on Varsity. But if it ever became apparent that we weren’t going to make CCS, I would run him in the Frosh race and let him go for the win. Part of that was for motivation. But it also showed that at mid-season, not running the CCS qualifying 86:37 was on my mind.
WCAL #1 at the Polo Fields was certainly a low point. Running without Paul, having JJ injured, and not having the alternates to go to, our worst fears came true – Riordan and Mitty finished ahead of us. I knew we would be back but this certainly served as a wake-up call.
Then we got hot for 2 weeks. First we won the Artichoke Invitational, our first Varsity Boys invitational win since 2004. Then we ran 87:17 at the Serra Invitational. That gave me a lot of confidence that we would make the CCS time standard of 86:37 relatively easily. And at WCAL #2 (Shoreline Park), we finally had a good race plan and the result was 5th place (bounced back to beat Riordan and Mitty) and a team time of 85:47 (:44 faster than last year). I began to see people writing on their post-race critique that they believed we could be faster than the State Meet team and that their goal was to run in the 84’s. It was great because, while I had those goals at the start of the season, the performance at Shoreline validated that we could really do it. I started really believing we could do it now, too.
But after resting out the top 5 at the Center Meet, we ran poorly at WCAL Finals. Everyone basically went out too fast and we had a terrible 2nd mile. When the boys hit the 2 mile mark, I checked their splits and started making calculations in my head. Forget running in the 84’s, we weren’t going to make the time standard to get to CCS even. I yelled to Kim to tell the boys we weren’t getting the times and they had to dig down and try to get some time back. To their credit, they did. A gutsy last 1000 meters got us home in 86:00 (5th place, ahead of Riordan and Mitty, and :37 under the time standard). We had dodged a bullet and lived to race again.
The bad day at WCAL Finals, though, affected our confidence. I wasn’t sure what would happen at CCS. I felt pretty sure we could do it and pretty sure we had a good race plan. But I started to question whether my projections were right. Maybe the fast times at Shoreline had skewed my calculations? Maybe we peaked too soon? Maybe we shouldn’t have rested at the Center Meet? Maybe we need a different race plan?
After reviewing the numbers over and over and then adjusting the race plan slightly at the Saturday workout at Crystal, things started to come together in my head. On Tuesday or Wednesday before CCS I had this vision of how I wanted to the race to go. We were seeded 11th or 12th. I wanted us to be in the back half of the pack at the mile mark (in our predicted 11th or 12th place) and then I wanted to attack the field and move up as far as we could. If we did this, the times would take care of themselves and we should have a successful last race of the season.
The CCS race went according to plan. Everyone was right on at the mile mark both in terms of their time and their place. Now, could we attack? On the first surge everyone seemed to be moving up and they had packs of runners to chase down. When I checked the 2 mile splits, things looked pretty good. As the boys came up Cardiac Hill, I noticed that Jared and Jarrett especially, looked a lot better than the runners around them. At the time it didn’t dawn on me that the boys were also really tightly packed. In the final stretch, Paul was battling Riordan’s top runner and looking like he would be near his PR. Jared was close behind so I knew he would be in the 16:40’s. Then, holy cow, there was the freshman, Jarrett – apparently running a sub-17 race. And not far behind came senior veterans, Tommy, JJ, Jim, and Kyle, running the last 150 meters of their high school cross country careers…and fighting for every last second.
I rushed to meet them at the end of the chute. Since I couldn’t see them finish, I started asking them if they knew their times. Most of them did so I wrote them down. As usual in moments like these, I was having trouble adding them up. Shannon Rowbury was there and offered to use her phone to add them up while I talked to the boys. I was very proud and excited. Mr Gary Cannon was there, too, and I think he could tell I was really happy with the race. There were a lot of hand shakes and back slapping going on. I told them that I thought we had run in the 84’s and that they had just run great. They looked pleased and proud to hear the news.
The final results confirmed it:
84:36!! Our 1-5 pack finished within :48 and 37 places of each other. JJ, our 5th man, ran 17:19, which is one second over what we need to average to hit the time standard. Jim, who didn’t make the top 5 on this day, ran 17:24, a time that’s among the top 25 in the Chanman era. Our depth was sensational. Jarrett, Tommy, JJ, Jim, and Kyle ran the fastest #3, #4, #5, #6 and #7 runner time that I have ever coached at Crystal.
I am so proud of this team. They faced some adversity but never stopped fighting. They may not have made it to State. There was no front runner or All-WCAL performer. They weren’t the best practice runners I have ever had. But they were a bunch of guys who knew how to lay it on the line in a race. And they are certainly deserving of this crowning moment – to be called the fastest team in school history.