This is the first story by Oliver Hinson for RunBlogRun. Oliver is a student at American University. Oliver describes himself as an “avid track and field fan and a serious runner who wants to tell the true, underappreciated stories, and someday, hopes to write a book”.
Well, he is off to a good start. He faced many obstacles in getting this story done.
We first discussed the assignment after the closing of media credentials.
Oliver bought a ticket to the NCAA XC Champs and did a series of interviews, covering the event and providing us with photos as well. We hope that you like Oliver’s story and his ability to get us on the course and feel the race, getting around five thousand moving, cheering fans, coaches, media, and athletes. What a day!
Oliver did our story on the women’s race as well, which we will post on Tuesday morning.
Blanks makes history, Cowboys dominate at NCAA championships
By: Oliver Hinson
Given the departure of 2022 NCAA cross-country individual champion Charles Hicks, there were more than a few claims to the individual throne at Panorama Farms on Saturday.
Junior Ky Robinson, the 2023 NCAA outdoor champion in the 5,000 and 10,000, could have followed in the footsteps of his former Cardinal teammate. Northern Arizona junior Nico Young, last year’s runner-up, could have followed his path as the logical successor. New Mexico freshman Habtom Samuel could have become the first freshman to win the national meet since Oregon’s Edward Cheserek in 2013.
The fans on the course, Saturday, November 18, 2023, photo by James B Daves
As the race came to a close, it looked like the latter might be fulfilled. Samuel inserted himself into the lead pack and held a narrow lead in the late stages. When he tried to separate himself from the field around 9k, though, he was closely followed by Harvard junior Graham Blanks. Over the last kilometer, Blanks made a decisive move – in the end, he became the first Ivy League runner to win the men’s cross-country championship, finding the chute in 28:37.
Graham Blanks of Harvard takes the Men’s race at 2023 NCAA Div I Cross Country, photo by James B. Daves.
“That was the hardest race of my life,” Blanks said in a post-race interview. “8k was a really dark spot… I was planning to go from the 1k mark ever since I saw the course map.”
Samuel was close behind in 28:40, while Robinson finished third in 28:55. Young slipped over the last few miles and finished sixth in 29:04.
If the individual competition wasn’t interesting enough, the sellout crowd also had a shocking team race to follow. When Oklahoma State coach Dave Smith was asked at Friday’s pre-race press conference how many points it would take to win, he said simply, “One less than NAU.”
Dave Smith, Coach, Oklahoma State University, Micheal Smith, Coach, NAU, photo by James B. Daves.
It was never that close, though. As each new standings update flashed on the big screen, the spectators let out a collective gasp – Oklahoma State took the lead at 5k, and despite NAU’s patented sit-and-kick strategy, they never gave it up, winning 49 to 71. Their point total was the lowest since Wisconsin’s 37 in 2005.
“Honestly, [the early lead] made me nervous,” Smith said. “I was worried that we might be biting off more than we could chew early on. I had visions of [Brodey Hasty] screaming down the home stretch, passing about 25 people.”
The fans were a huge part of the story, cheering the best of college cross country on the challenging course! photo by James B. Daves.
Smith’s young, diverse roster has been the topic of much conversation this season – of his top seven, three are freshmen, and five are international. Kenyan freshmen Brian Musau and Denis Kipngetich led the way for the Cowboys, while veterans Alex Maier and Victor Shitsama rounded out the top five. Maier, who boasts a 13:11 5k PB and finished fifth at last year’s championships, said it was “incredible” to be surrounded by an influx of new talent this fall.
The early leaders, NCAA Mens 2023 XC Div I, photo by James B. Daves.
“It’s such a boost, not just in the race, but every day when you’re out there training,” Maier said. “When you’re around that caliber of guys, it just raises everybody’s ceiling.”
Maier said he was “hopeful” that Oklahoma State would become the next dynasty of the NCAA.
Of course, for some teams, it was victory enough to simply be at the meet. Last week at the NCAA West Regional, Portland made waves by finishing third in the race, knocking Oregon out of team qualification and securing a spot for themselves. They finished 27th on Saturday.
Drew Bosley leads the pack, photo by James B Daves
“It’s a thrill to be here,” head coach Rob Conner said. “That’s the goal every year. Once you get here, it’s survival of the fittest. Our team gutted it out… [our finish] was solid, especially considering the ups and downs we’ve had this year. We’ve had a lot of guys sick, several COVID cases, several injuries… to come here and beat some people, it was great.”
The team battle continues, OSU vs NAU, photo by James B. Daves.
The atmosphere in Charlottesville was also a thrill – and a challenge – for some of the young individuals in the race. Stanford freshman Lex Young, who spent the latter two years of his high school career in the national spotlight, finished 74th in a time of 30:19, and he described the race as “insane,” citing the impressive crowd noise, an “absurdly difficult” course, and the field’s overall talent.
The Panorama Farms course was both insane and spectacular, per competitors! Photo by James B. Daves.
“In college, it’s another level,” Young said. “Going out in under 2:40 and being in 100th place, it’s a feeling that’s pretty crazy. It’s hard to do that and keep your composure… I think that’s the biggest thing, learning to go out quick, still be in such a dense pack, and keep your mind in a strong state. Everyone is going out quick. Who can hold on?”
Lex Young battling the course and competitors, photo by James B. Daves
It’s worth mentioning, though, that this distinct atmosphere – over 5,000 spectators lined the course – is no less created than enjoyed by runners like Young, who stayed long after the race to interact with hundreds of fans. One fan, a 14-year-old named Jonah, came wearing an NAU singlet and left with dozens of autographs.
A young fan (hint, his brother is on the NAU team), photo by Oliver Hinson
“It just shows their commitment to the sport,” he said when asked about the athletes’ willingness to sacrifice their time. “It’s really cool what they do for us.”
The full results from Saturday’s race can be accessed here.
Special thanks to James B. Daves, photographer for the NCAA Cross Country, Marcus Thatcher of the NCAA communications team, and Dave Frank, esteemed coach, Stanford grad, 8:38 steeplechaser, and friend, who provided the intro to Oliver Hinson. Good friends are important to a happy life.