Central continued its rapid ascent to national contender in men’s cross country with a best-ever sixth-place finish at the NCAA Division III Championships in Hanover, Ind., Nov. 23.
Junior Eli Horton sprinted to an early lead and finished fourth in a career-best 24:35.2 on the 8,000-meter course, while senior Austin O’Brien was 11th in 25:02.2, to give Central two all-America honorees.
Horton’s finish was a new milestone for Central, topping an 18th-place effort by Jerry Fitzsimmons in 1979. The previous best team finish was 12th a year ago. Horton also claimed the NCAA Central Region title at Northfield, Minn., where the Dutch finished second in the team standings, just 10 points behind eventual national champ St. Olaf (Minn.).
Central, which ended a 49-year drought by capturing its first Iowa Conference team title in 2012, needed just 12 months to win its second under coach Joe Dunham. The Dutch dominated the field, taking the top three individual spots in the league meet on their home course Nov. 2. O’Brien, Central’s No. 4 runner last season, made dramatic strides in 2013, taking league MVP honors after winning the individual crown in 24:46.8. Horton, the 2012 champ, was second with sophomore Cole Decker in third. Junior Drew Jackson was 10th and freshman Isaac Steffensmeier was 15th as all five Dutch runners earned all-league distinction.
“This was another step in a positive direction,” Dunham says. “We want to win a national championship like St. Olaf did. We’ve got to go back and keep working.”
O’Brien will be the only graduation loss from Central’s top seven.
The Dutch women’s squad was 16th in the 27-team regional. Junior Alyssa Eaves turned in a career-best 6,000-meter time of 23:30.14 to place 35th and earn all-region honors.
Central was fourth at the conference meet. Eaves placed 13th while freshmen Kasey Wiedmaier and Gabi Wilson were 20th and 22nd, respectively, with senior Daphne Baumgartner in 24th and senior Emma Nelson in 25th.