Over the River and Through the Woods to the NCAA's they go

by Matthew Mackey | 11/21/05 6:00am

For the Dartmouth men's cross country team, this will be the longest season it has had in years. Not since 2001 has the Big Green secured a bid to the NCAA Championships, but today, the men will again return to the national stage, running against 30 of the country's top programs in Terre Haute, Ind. For one of Dartmouth's women, however, this will be a second and final time to run at the national level.

The men's team's second-place Regional finish on Saturday, Nov. 12 gave it its 18th bid to the Championships since 1975. Said men's coach Barry Harwick of the meet, "We ran very, very well [at regionals], and I think this puts us in a great position going into the nationals."

Dartmouth gained notice on a grand scale as early as the first week of October, besting then-No. 10 Iowa at Maine's Murray Keatinge Invitational, and only continued to demonstrate the strength of its program as the season continued, besting national competition throughout the year, most notably at the pre-national meet on Oct. 17. By finishing fifth out of 33 in a nationally stacked field, the Big Green vaulted to a No. 14 national ranking, the highest Dartmouth has been ranked in recent memory.

The men continued their run of dominance with a convincing win of the Ivy League title on Oct. 30, and kept their momentum as they secured an automatic bid to the NCAA meet with a second-place finish at the Northeast Region NCAA meet to current No. 13 Iona College on Nov. 13.

"Auto-qualifying for Nationals," something acheived by finishing in the top two at regionals, "was our main goal, and we're happy to have accomplished it," said co-captain Dave Burnham '06 of the race. "We knew that if Iona ran at their best they would probably be unbeatable, but they had been inconsistent earlier in the season. We had been hoping to take advantage of that, but as it turned out they ran very well."

"[Iona is] probably in the top six in the country," making them a touch match for almost any team," added Harwick,

The men will be looking to their usual stars to come through along with some exceptional races from its fifth through seventh runners in Terre Haute as the team tries to improve its current national ranking of No. 17.

Individual Ivy League champion Ben True '08 will be expected to lead the way for Dartmouth, while Alec Wall '07 hopes to remain close behind. Burnham has been a fixture as the number three man, and Ian Marcus '07 has similarly been a constant in the fourth spot. Matt Davis '08 ran a great race to take fifth at regionals, but co-captain Steve Mucchetti '06 and Harry Norton '08 have also had solid showings to score as the fifth man in the past.

"I think that if we run well we could be a top 15 team, and we should definitely finish in the top 20," said Burnham. "Early in the season we had been struggling to find a fifth man, but we had solid races out of Matt Davis and Harry Norton on Saturday, so I think we'll have the depth we need [to finish well]."

Said Wall of the championship meet, "The NCAA meet is extremely unpredictable. A few good teams are guaranteed to choke, and a few mediocre teams will run out of their minds. If we all have our best race of the season on Nov. 21st, I believe we have an outside chance to sneak into the top 10."

While the men will be running for the glory of their team, for Melanie Schorr '06, making the national meet was the only way to keep her senior season alive.

Schorr finished seventh at Regionals to secure an individual bid to the NCAA championship, ensuring her season would not end last weekend in Boston.

"Running has been by far my favorite part of college, and I wasn't ready for Saturday to be my last race," said a relieved Schorr. "The men's race was so inspirational to watch, and I'm really excited to be traveling out to Indiana with them."

This will be Schorr's second time competing against the nation's best-- she also qualified as a sophomore, finishing 144th out of 252 runners.

Schorr has been a consistent leader for the women, and along with Hilary Dionne '07 and Susan Dunklee '08 has helped to keep a women's team devoid of a concrete fourth or fifth runner from falling too far to the wayside.

"Melanie ran a gusty, phenomenal race to qualify for nationals, and the team will definitely notice her absence next year," said Dionne.

Schorr's has one primary objective for the NCAA meet: to make All-American status. Given that Schorr has already bested former All-Americans this year, it is a realistic one.

"[If] she runs the way she's been running all season, she can definitely be an all-American," said coach Maribel Souther of her runner's chances.

The NCAA Championship meet will take place today at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind., on a course designed for cross country running. The men's race will be held at noon, followed by the women's race at 1:15 p.m.