The North Central men’s cross country team competed in its 50th season under head coach Al Carius, winning a 42nd consecutive College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) Championship before placing fifth at the NCAA Division III National Championships in Winnecone, WI.
“Every team is different and every year is different,” says Carius of his milestone. “But to continually see these young men absorbing the values and benefits of our program is encouraging and extremely rewarding.”
North Central finished the national meet with a total of 254 points after being dealt some adversity soon after the starter’s pistol fired. As the field of 280 competitors began to narrow roughly 250 meters after the start, the Cardinals, who were positioned near the middle of the starting line, were faced by converging traffic on both sides. Several North Central athletes were impeded as some other runners fell to the turf, forcing them to play catch-up the rest of the way.
“That certainly put us back,” says Carius. “But that’s part of the race. It’s cross country, it’s tough competition and you’ve got to try and keep yourself out of harm’s way. It certainly did interfere with the flow of the race, but it’s no excuse.”
The Cardinals’ Zach Plank ’17 was able to avoid the pileup and moved quickly to the front of the field. He hung tough with the leaders and went on to place fourth overall, becoming the 69th North Central runner to earn All-America honors.
“I just put myself in the position where I wanted to be, with a group that was going to run fast,” Plank said. “I knew I belonged there, so I put myself in the mix.”
North Central claimed six of the top 10 individual places at the CCIW Championships to finish with 22 points, well ahead of runner-up Augustana College’s total of 44. Plank won the individual championship, followed by Al Baldonado ’19 in second place, Ken Hoffman ’16 in third, Dhruvil Patel ’19 in seventh, Zach Hird ’18 in ninth and Ethan Adlfinger ’17 in 10th.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Carius said. “Experience helps you, so we got a lot of good experience for the future with some young guys who are going to be very, very good. It’ll be a real incentive to get ready for next year.”