CMS Cross Country Teams Look to Keep Their Dynasties Going in 2019

CMS Cross Country Teams Look to Keep Their Dynasties Going in 2019

CLAREMONT, Calif. - There are no sure things in sports, but for the most part, the CMS men's and women's cross country programs can risk reserving their hotel rooms at nationals well in advance.

The Athenas and Stags both enter the 2019 season riding streaks of 11 years in a row of qualifying for the NCAA Division III Championships, and neither program shows any sign of letting up. Both programs came into the year ranked in the top 20 in the nation in the USTFCCCA preseason poll, with the Athenas holding down the No. 14 spot, and the Stags in at No. 18. 

On the women's side, the Athenas are also riding a streak of nine straight SCIAC Championships and are looking to sweep the entire decade of the 2010s with another title this fall. Pomona-Pitzer will present a challenge to that goal; in fact, the Sagehens were picked ahead of CMS in the West Region poll, although the Athenas were picked by the SCIAC coaches to win the league. The preseason polls mean very little, though, according to junior Abigail Johnson. 

"I don't look at the polls at all," Johnson said. "They change, it's sort of arbitrary, and how you are doing at the start does not mean very much about how you are doing at the end. I know on this team we try to emphasize that build to a peak at conference meet and then postseason once we get there." 

Johnson was one of the consistent top three for the Athenas last year, along with seniors Natalie Marsh and Malea Martin, leaving some holes at the front of the pack, but the team's depth will be a key factor in overcoming the loss of three of last year's top seven who competed at nationals (Marsh, Martin, and Matilda Msall).

Senior Georgia Scherer, junior Dulcie Jones and sophomore Riley Harmon are also back from last year's NCAA squad, with Jones earning SCIAC Athlete of the Week honors after being the top finisher for the Athenas on Saturday at the Biola Invitational. Harmon is part of a strong class of 2022 looking to make a step forward their sophomore years, with Emily Clarke, Brooklyn Button and Sophie Gitlin all finishing in the top seven for CMS last weekend, while first-year Isabelle Brusco was the second Athena to cross the line, indicating that she is ready to make an impact her first season, while junior Olivia Gleason had a strong race to come in fourth for CMS.

That depth is part of what makes the program so successful according to Johnson, who says that she doesn't feel any additional leadership pressure with the loss of last year's veterans 

"Our team is really special in that it's a large team, and we have a lot of strong, natural leaders," she said. "We actually don't have captains during the season, it's a nominated honor at the end of the season at the banquet. I've been stepping up as an upperclassman with helping freshmen figure out college life, how to do laundry, and showing people where the runs are, but it's definitely not just me and our team is stronger because we have many diverse leaders."

The Stags, meanwhile, have six of their top seven runners back from last year, all of whom were first-years and sophomores. They graduated Ben Iten from the Class of 2019, but return Thomas D'Anieri, who was a top-100 runner at nationals as a sophomore and missed last season while studying abroad. D'Anieri was 14th out of 203 runners at the Biola Invitational (No. 12 among collegiate runners) and makes the top of the CMS line-up that much stronger. 

A year ago without D'Anieri, CMS headed into the regionals on the heels of a third-place finish at SCIACs and were at risk of not qualifying for nationals for the first time since 2007. However, they bounced back from the conference race to tie Pomona-Pitzer for first in the NCAA West Regionals and earn their ticket to the NCAAs. Sophomore Miles Christensen, who emerged as the program's top runner as a first-year (finishing third at regionals), said that the regionals last year gave a young CMS team a lot of confidence as to high its ceiling could be. 

"It definitely helped us a lot," Christensen said. "We had some good expectations at the conference meet and didn't really live up to those, and I think the regionals were a better showing of what we thought we could do. And just knowing off of last year we have most of our top seven coming back; we lost Ben Iten who was a great leader, but then everyone else is coming back and we were getting Thomas back again, so there's a lot of confidence for this year knowing that we have a lot more in the tank. We have a lot of work to do this season."

Christensen was part of a strong Class of 2022 that had an immediate impact as first-years, as Kyril Van Schendel was a consistent scorer for CMS, and finished seventh at the Biola Invitational to start this year, while Alexander Hirsch and Thomas Fleming were part of the top seven that competed at nationals. Junior Stevie Steinberg was ninth at regionals last year and started out this season with a SCIAC Athlete of the Week honor after coming in fifth at the Biola Invitationa, while junior Will Kimball was also part of the seven-member postseason contingent. 

Several other Stags will threaten to join the top seven, including senior Wilson Ives and junior Evan Hassman, who was an All-American in the steeplechase during track and field season. First-year Henry Pick had an impressive opening race at the Biola Invitational, finishing 25th, while first-years Daniel Krasemann and Will Wallace were also in the top 40. Sophomore Adam Wilkinson had a strong outing as well, coming in 28th, giving the Stags potentially five sophomores in their top 10.

Christensen capped off a strong debut season by winning the 5000 meters at the SCIAC Championships in track and field, and he is motivated to try to make his sophomore season even better. 

"I've definitely had a lot of motivation this summer," he said. "End of last year at nationals in track, I didn't really perform how I wanted to, so some of the motivation is trying to redeem myself from that. And also just having a really good team and trying to help everyone out and make sure that we do what we want to do. I have to contribute, and everyone has to do their part to make sure we get to our goals. That's pretty good motivation."

The program's success over the years has certainly been due to having talented runners, but there's also much more to it than that. Both Johnson and Christensen agree that the team culture helps everyone thrive ("it is a team sport, I like to add," said Johnson), and allows the program to stay consistently among the nation's elite. 

"You're running next to people who are not just your teammates, they're your friends," said Johnson. "They are the people you eat meals with, the people who helped you through that hard time. It just gives you this natural instinctive trust that helps you take the kind of risks that you need to take in a race in order to make it special."

"I think it really is the culture," said Christensen of the secret to success. "Everyone has a lot of fun. It's great to run with good friends. We do everything together, so it's great to get out there and do what you love with the people that you love, and then it keeps building on itself year after year." 

The CMS programs will look to build another year on to its successful history with its key races right in Claremont, where both the SCIAC Championships (Nov. 2) and the NCAA West Regionals (Nov. 16) will be held this fall. 

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