Men's cross country reaching an unpredictable finish

By Daniel Kerwin

Coach Matt Haugen refers to the men’s cross-country team as “the Mac Pack”; this year’s team really seems to take this “pack” mentality to heart.Last weekend at the UW-Oshkosh Brooks Invitational, Tim Burns ’09 finished 45th with a time of 25:24. The rest of the top four finished almost within five-second intervals of each other.

“We didn’t run in a pack, we just ended in a pack,” Matt Wegmann ’08 said.

With such closely matched runners, a high degree of competition has been built within the team.

“We’re our biggest competitors,” Wegmann said.

“You know how fast everyone else is, so when you beat somebody on the team you know exactly what you did and exactly how good you are,” Nick Mangigian ’10 said.

If the team can continue to have such tight finishes, the prospects are looking good for at least a 4th place finish in the Oct. 27 MIAC Championships for the fifth straight year.

“Certainly, a top-4 finish is important to us, to maintain ‘the streak,'” Haugen said. “If our top 4 finish within 30 seconds of each other, and [Zak] Morrow ’08, [Jakob] Wartman ’08 or [Dale] Dybvig ’11 stays within 30 seconds of that pack, we can finish 3rd or 4th at the MIAC.”

Macalester beat the only other MIAC team in the field in Oshkosh, Bethel, and everybody posted strong times on a course that ran fast due to a combination of flat terrain and favorable conditions.

If Burns keeps finishing like he did in Oshkosh, things will go exceptionally well for the team; his 25:24 was the 4th fastest time in Macalester history.

“It’s encouraging,” Burns said of his time. “It helps to have guys with the 5th, 6th and 11th fastest times on the same team as well.”

St. Johns and Carleton are likely going to be the top two teams at the MIAC Championships; Macalester should be just below these two, in a pack of five schools vying for the third spot. Macalester beat most of the schools in this group in the Sep. 21 UW-Eau Claire Blugold Open, placing 3rd overall.

The team will be without one of its top runners for the meet in Wade Ekstrom ’10, but Haugen said he feels there are a couple of seniors capable of filling the Ekstrom void.

The weekend after the MIAC Championships, 7 members of the team will run at the NCAA Central Regionals in Northfield. A good result at the regional meet is the sole criterion for qualifying for nationals; the Mac Pack will try to send at least one runner to nationals for the first time since Brandon Guthrie went in 1999 – if the whole pack finishes strong there is a chance of sending the whole team to nationals for the first time in about 25 years.

Once again Mac will be a man short with the absence of Kyle Braam ’08 the weekend of Regionals. The team will have to step up its performance, but once again Haugen believes Mac could still possibly pull off a top 5 finish.

Qualifying for nationals is highly unpredictable. Last year, Dylan Keith ’07 looked to be a lock to make nationals, but a bad race at the regional meet meant that he missed out by just a few seconds. Burns is determined not to let bad luck get in the way this year.

“Chance will have nothing to do with it,” Burns said. ‘It is upon us to believe we can, and then go out and accomplish it.”

Before any talk of conference or regional meets can be made, however, the Mac Pack has to raise their pride in this afternoon’s Summit Cup, a one-on-one meet against St. Thomas taking place at Macalester Stadium.

The Summit Cup annually decides which of the two colleges gains the bragging rights as the best team on Summit Avenue. Two years ago Macalester utterly embarrassed St. Thomas in the event, winning with a perfect score against a Tommie score of “zero”. St. Thomas didn’t actually turn up on the day, but the Tommie’s zero was met with genuine concern from their alumni.

“It’s not clear what the zero would mean,” Wegmann said. “You want the lowest score, but it’s obviously not a zero.”

It’s impossible to predict what will happen during these final weeks of the season. If you’re just now tuning in to the exploits of the Mac Pack, no is the best time to start; maybe the team will improve on its yearly 4th place finish in the MIAC Championships; maybe we’ll see a Mac runner bring his orange singlet to nationals; maybe St. Thomas won’t even show up this afternoon.