Men’s cross-country cruises to NCAC crown

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The men’s cross-country team dominated the 2010 North Coast Athletic Conference Championship Saturday, placing them one step closer to the national championship. The No. 2 nationally-ranked Gators claimed their seventh consecutive title and lead the conference with 10 titles overall.

Chris Marker, ’11, took first place with a time of 25:24.8, followed closely by Jeramie Parker, ’11, who clocked in at second place with a time of 25:31.7. Both runners secured places as First Team All-Conference runners.

Seniors Zac Ross, Ryan Sullivan, and Andrew Mahone rounded out the Gator top five, finishing seventh, 12th and 13th, respectively. Ross’ finish earned him First Team All-Conference honors, making him the first runner in the history of the NCAC to achieve the accolade during each of the four years of his career. Sullivan and Mahone earned Second Team All-Conference honors for their performances.

Despite their strong showing, the Gators will face tough competition in their continued quest to win a national title. Coach Brent Wilkerson believes that the team is aware of both their own talent as well as that of their competition.

“We’re very humble. We understand that there are good teams out there and we respect the other teams, but at the same time, none of our guys are running scared,” he said.

In order to achieve the spread needed for a first-place finish, the Gators will be relying on Marker and Parker to run another championship-caliber race.

“Those two guys [Marker and Parker] will be running for the individual title at the NCAA national meet,” said Ross. “Each has multiple All-American honors, so they’ve been there before, performed very well, and we have all the confidence in the world they will do it again.”

Staying focused and healthy prior to the meet is just as important as the race itself, as the team still has to make it through the Mid-East Regional on Nov. 13 before the NCAA meet a week later.

“All the hard work is done, and getting to the line on November 20th [at nationals] with the least amount of stress and illness as possible is goal number one,” Ross said.

In addition to staying healthy, improvement is still possible and necessary. In order to be successful at regionals and nationals, the Gators must close the gap between their first two runners and their fifth.

“Our spread has ranged from 45 seconds to 79 seconds,” Ross said. “If we even want to have a shot at winning the regional or national meet, it needs to be on the lower end. It’s been done before this year, so there is no reason, barring a mid-race mental breakdown, that it won’t happen in the next two races.”

Wilkerson agrees that the team has been extremely focused on winning after last year’s third-place finish at nationals.

“It’s been our driving force,” he said.

After a fall season marked by strong performances against elite national competition, the team is excited that they’ve maintained their speed for the start of the postseason.

“Everyone understands that we are just beginning our real season,” said Parker, who finished seconds behind Marker at conferences.

Their national championship goal does not mean that the Gators will slow down next Saturday at regionals, though, and Parker stressed that they plan to run the race with the same intensity they want to bring to NCAAChampionships in Wartburg, Iowa, Nov. 20.

“Winning the Inter-Regional Rumble and the NCAC Conference meet were great achievements but all of us have our sights on bigger things,” Parker said. “Complacency is not something you will find on this team.”