For the Columbia men’s cross country team, October has been a magical month.
Following the men’s breakthrough performance at the Wisconsin Invitational—where they defeated four teams nationally ranked in the top 10 and took fifth place—the men shot up seven spots in the national rankings, claiming No. 10 for their own last week. The ranking is the highest in the program’s history thus far, and the latest achievement in what has been a season to remember.
The collective efforts of the coaches and athletes throughout the entire year are cited by the latter as they key components to the team’s success.
“Placing fifth as a team at such a large, national meet was incredible. To be so competitive against the top talent in the country [shows] the dedication of every guy on our team,” senior Mike Murphy said in an email interview. Murphy led the Lions in Wisconsin, placing in the top 25 in a field of more than 300 athletes.
Senior Leighton Spencer, who also ran in Wisconsin, credited the coaches and the work they have put into the program with the improvement the program has seen over the years. Spencer said he thinks coaches continuously help the team come closer to its full potential.
While the athletes train in the offseason and keep themselves fit so that they are where they need to be physically when they return to the team, coaches are also doing their part to improve their squads. For the athletes, their offseason training will affect their performance in the regular season. For the coaches, the work is even more critical. What they do in the offseason affects not only the teams of the next few seasons, but the future of the program for years to come.
“The coaches are consistently working to attract the best recruits in the country and they ensure that we have every resource at our disposal in terms of injury prevention and new training techniques,” Murphy said.
However, both Spencer and Murphy said that it takes more than just a good coaching staff to reach the level of success that they have had this season. At the heart of the team is a tight-knit group of men who do more than just wear the same-colored jersey. The unity at the core of the men’s cross country program exist on and off the track.
“We all live together, eat dinner together, have fun at practice, and hold each other accountable, and we race hard as a team,” Murphy said. “Every year, our program is successful because of the unique camaraderie we possess.”
Though the top-10 ranking is certainly worth celebrating, the men still have goals to fulfill in the final three weeks of the season. The men entered the year focused on doing well at nationals, which will be the place for them to show whether they truly belong in the top 10.
“The Wisconsin Invite let us know how we measure up to other teams in the nation. Being ranked in the top 10 in the nation is great, we still believe as a team that we can accomplish more and have the highest finish at a national competition in team history,” Spencer said.
The men’s performance at Wisconsin is exactly the kind of motivation they needed to push themselves in the home stretch of the season, the runners said. Training for this moment began in June, and with two of the largest meets of the season—the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and nationals—fast approaching, the men are ready to exceed expectations.
“Receiving a top 10 ranking is a great accomplishment in itself but it’s not what we set out to accomplish this year,” Murphy said. “We are still hungry to accomplish more this season.”