This past summer while shopping for running shoes at Naperville Running Company, I met a young man that worked at the shop during breaks between school years at North Central College. We talked about running for a bit and one got the sense this was a kid on a mission. So I wrote about his passion for running and his goals for the coming year in NCAA Division III Cross Country.
Well, Zach did pretty darn well at Nationals, placing in the top 10 for an All-American ranking. His team from North Central placed 5th overall after having won in 2013. This is what the official story from the meet said of his individual performance. “Plank hung tough with the leaders and went on to place fourth overall, hitting the finish line in 24:26.9 and becoming the 69th North Central runner to earn All-America honors.”
Yes, you read that time right. 24:26 for five miles of racing. Fortunately, the snows held off in Oshkosh, which was a little too far north to get hit by the weekend storms. How ironic and beautiful is that! Too far north to get snow!
You never know what you’re going to get in terms of weather this time of year. When my alma mater Luther College won its first national championship back in 1985, the meet was held down south and the temps topped eighty degrees. Great programs know how to prepare and perform no matter what the conditions.
North Central is such a perennial favorite to win, the ideals of living up to that long tradition can put strange pressures on the program’s athletes. Of course, teams with that level of tradition know that a few challenges can come up along the way. Such was the case this year for the Cardinals, who placed fifth overall at the national meet. That is not a shabby day for any collegiate program. But for the North Central Cardinals, every year is an opportunity to succeed and possibly win. Here’s what Zach wrote on his Facebook page about the experience:
“I wish I could give everyone in this program – coaches, alums, teammates – a championship, because we are a championship team. However, today was a day to understand what it takes to be at that level. We knew we had it; we were ready, but it was just not what was in the cards. We’ve learned so much from each other and now, with this chip on our shoulder, we will work harder every day to never feel like this again. To each and every one of my teammates, coaches, alumni from every generation, I thank you for creating a program and history that takes every ounce of work and character to be a part of.”
So the tradition continues. You can read about the results of the meet here, in the official summary from North Central College athletics department. It bears noting that the women’s team at North Central has built just as successful a tradition of competing at nationals. Congratulations to all that have represented this program and many other division III schools. This is sport for the love of it. And a grand thing at that.