LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Colby men's cross country team raced to 16th place nationally at the Division III NCAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday. Junior Eli Decker (pictured right) and first-year Tyler Morris earned All-American honors with 35th and 36th place finishes, respectively. Morris was the third fastest first-year at this year's championships.
Sporadic rain and overcast skies kept Louisville, Kentucky's Tom Sawyer State Park uncharacteristically cool as the top 280 Division III runners lined up for their final race of the season. Decker described the conditions as, "mule weather", adding that "it was pretty chilly and a total mud fest which made it feel like a real cross country race." The Mules entered the championship ranked 15th in the country after taking 2nd in the New England Regional Championships. The field remained stacked, however, with the nation's top 32 teams all in attendance.
Fans buzzed with excitment and anticipation as the runners quieted, waiting for the start. Once underway, though, the leaders dropped the hammer from the gun, their pace matching the high-octane environment. The front of the pack ran the first kilometer in 3:02, or 4:53 mile pace, and never relented. Patrick Watson of Stevenson College, the race winner, finished the 8000 m race in 24:13.9, averaging 4:52 miles en route to victory.
The Mules were not far behind as the field thundered through the course. The team started conservatively, with Morris and Decker in 95th and 100th, respectively, after the first kilometer. Behind them, Ewan Frick, Collins Kibet, Ben Mellor, and Max Lessans worked their way through the large pack. One kilometer in, the four sophomores sat at 200th, 203rd, 249th, and 251st but were charging up the standings. Senior Robert Dettmann was in the mix as well, coming through the first kilometer in 272nd to round out Colby's runners.
Colby stuck to their pacing strategy as the field started to splinter and falter. By the fourth kilometer, the Mules were running aggressively and had all improved their place, highlighted by Morris's big move into 36th. When the dust settled, Decker caught Morris and just edged past him at the finish, placing 35th in a time of 24:55.3. Morris finished 36th in 24:55.7.
The effort was enough for both athletes to earn All-American recognition, which is awarded to the top 40 runners. For Decker, the finish is a huge improvement from his 91st at last year's nationals. Morris's finish was the third fastest first-year time on the day and caps one of the Mules' best first-year campaigns in program history.
Decker, always humble, credited the teammates and the team's support network for his success. "I'm so thankful to have Tyler race along side me this season and especially today and be able to push me to an All-American finish. I couldn't of done it without my teammates and Jared, who has been instrumental in the success and well-being of our team. This has been an awesome season and I'm so thankful to all the people who have supported me and the team this year. Lots of props to our academic liaison, Julie Millard for helping with everything and traveling with the team, she's been amazing this year and props to professor Ron Peck as well for helping with the team this season!" Morris echoed Decker's sentiments, adding "I am so fortunate to be a part of this team. Having Eli to train with and work with during races all season has pushed me to boundaries I never thought I would achieve. He took me under his wing day one and I wouldn't be an All American without him. I would also like to say a major thank you to Jared Beers for being an absolutely incredible coach and pushing me to be the best athlete and person I can be."
Sophomores Kibet, Lessans, and Frick (pictured right) used an aggressive second half to move through the field, as well. Kibet finished 120th, just ahead of Lessans (133rd). Frick raced to 163rd to help the Mules to 16th place finish as a team. Mellor ended his race in 181st, while Dettmann finished in 265th.
Colby finished 2nd among NESCAC schools and as the third team from New England. The Mules return all of their scoring runners next season, so look for this group to keep their positive momentum heading into next fall.