The magnitude of what happened last week at Stevenson University Greenspring Campus seems too great to explain in words, but I’ll try anyway. The Dons were heavily favored to win the league after having dominating performances throughout the year. This Loyola team did not want the streak of six consecutive championships to end with them.
Besides Loyola and Mt. St. Joe, the only other team seemingly in contention for the championship was McDonogh. McDonogh had two top runners but lacked a strong four and five, which would eventually pull them out of the running in the all-MIAA Championship meet.
The Gaels beat the Dons twice this year in big invitational competitions, so they felt more confident than some thought they should have. The Gaels’ race plan was to give the top runners from Loyola and McDonogh a few seconds in the first mile, in hopes that MSJ runners could make up the distance later in the race when their opponents started to fade.
This plan seemed to backfire from the start of the race. Loyola’s top two runners, Frankie Legambi and Kenny Rowe, were in the front and had a ten place lead over the MSJ pack. Their third runner, Kevin Wegner, also positioned himself near the front and did not appear to be slowing down after the mile mark. It appeared that the Gaels were going to finish in a solid second place and be nowhere in contention for the title.
However, the heat played a factor in the race, and just before the two mile mark, the Dons’ top runner Legambi slowed down and dropped out of the race. This brought new life into the MSJ team, and they began to surge to the front. Alex Whittaker and Hunter Petrik began to pick off runners and moved into the top ten. Justin Russell, Carter Williams and Jake Almendra also moved up and got into the top twenty. In the end, Whittaker finished 6th, Petrik 7th, Williams 11th, Almendra 13th, and Russell 15th.
The Gaels were also helped significantly by their 6th and 7th runners, Andrew Brinker and Joe Ruf. A team’s score in cross country is the combination of the places of only the top five finishers; however, if a team is able to get their 6th and 7th runners in front of another team’s 5th, they can make the other team’s score suffer. Since Brinker and Ruf beat Loyola’s 5th runner, Loyola’s score went up two points and made all the difference. The final score was MSJ-52, Loyola-54 (lowest score wins).
Overall, it was an outstanding season for the Gaels. The team won the first ever MIAA title for the school and promises to be strong again next year. Almost every runner on the team improved by one to two minutes from the start of the season. Many of the runners have said that winning this championship seems unreal because of the dominance that Loyola has had in the league. The tide seems to have turned now in favor of St. Joe, and Coach Turner and the runners hope to start their own streak of championships in the coming years.
Be prepared for many more trophies coming from the Cross Country team in the future.