LANSING, Mich. — As icy winds whistled across a snow-blanketed course, the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships presented not only the season’s most competitive field but its harshest conditions Saturday, but Central College’s runners seized the moment.
Junior Caroline McMartin (Pella) and senior Caleb Silver (Conrad, BCLUW HS) each gained all-America honors. McMartin was 24th in the 6,000-meter women’s race in 22:31.0 while Silver placed 25th in the 8,000-meter men’s race in 25:29.3. Central’s other men’s qualifier, Noah Jorgenson (junior, Sidney) was among the leaders much of the way, but had a difficult final kilometer, slipping to 79th in 25:59.0.
“I couldn’t be more proud of each of them, how they ran and how they put themselves out there to do the best they could,” coach Joe Dunham said. “It’s always exciting for a coach to see them believing in the process, believing in the plan and then going out and executing it.”
Race-time temperature at Michigan State University’s Forest Akers Golf Course was a frosty 22 degrees with a 15 mph wind. An attempt was made to brush snow off the race path, but a thin layer remained. More snow with high winds was forecast for early afternoon as the teams head home.
“It’s the coldest I’ve ever been at a national meet,” Dunham said.
Clutch McMartin performance--McMartin was making her second national meet appearance, placing 118th a year ago in Louisville, Kentucky. Her time on the frozen course Saturday was less than 17 seconds slower than the 22:14.3 time she posted in far more favorable circumstances last Saturday at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Geneva, Illinois. And it’s 14 seconds faster than the time she posted at the American Rivers meet in Indianola Oct. 29. She was seventh in the powerful league that day but was the fifth conference runner to cross the line Saturday. Loras College senior Kassie Parker ran away from the field to capture the NCAA title in 21:06.5, 33 seconds ahead of Fiona Smith of the College of Saint Benedict (Minn.).
McMartin was in a tightly bunched pack as just 10 seconds separated the No. 16 and No. 30 finishers. She was the picture of consistency throughout the race. At the four race checkpoints before the finish, she was never higher than 21st or lower than 25th.
“Caroline followed the game plan very, very well,” Dunham said. “We talked a lot about getting out fast and getting into good position, then holding on to that position. And she absolutely executed the plan perfectly. It was really fun to see her accomplish the things we knew she was capable of doing.”
Jumping out with the leaders to prevent getting buried in the large, competitive field was critical.
“You have to get out and get into position early,” Dunham said. “There are just too many good runners in the race. And then, on top of that, with all the snow on the course, you’re never going to be able to sludge through the snow and make up anything from the back. You’ve got to get out and hold on. That’s the approach we took in both races today.”
McMartin is Central’s ninth women’s cross country all-American and the first since Beth Cunningham placed 20th in 2004. McMartin and Cunningham are the program’s only all-America finishers since 1981.
And McMartin has another year of competition ahead. An even loftier finish is possible but there are never guarantees, Dunham said.
“Anytime you’re an all-American, that’s incredible,” Dunham said. “Any of those top runners could really finish anywhere, it’s just a matter of executing on the day, feeling good that day and being in the right mindset, like our runners were today. I’m excited for the future for her.”
Dunham’s hopes are high for the women’s team as well, with a talented group returning.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to work hard and improve.”
Silver surges--Silver is Central’s first men’s all-America runner since Mark Fairley finished 20th in 2017. He’s Central’s ninth men’s cross country all-America honoree.
Silver was Central’s No. 2 runner much of the year. He was 22nd at the conference meet in 25:59.2 and 13th in the regional in 25:26.0 but saved his peak effort for Saturday. He was making his second national meet appearance after placing 89th last year in Louisville in 24:44. He also qualified for the NCAA national outdoor track and field meet in 2021 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. That big-meet experience was beneficial, Dunham said.
“We were talking about that, just the improvements that Caleb and Caroline made from last year,” he said. “I think just having been here already and having that experience and knowing what to expect plays a vital role. We definitely saw that happen today.”
Silver had a steady race. He was in 17th after 4.6 kilometers and 22nd after 6.3.
“Much like Caroline, Caleb got out well, and that’s really what you have to be able to do to put yourself in position to have success in this race,” Dunham said. “At some point in the race, because you’ve sold out and gotten out hard, it just becomes a matter of who’s tougher and who wants it more. But you’ve got to be feeling good and you’ve got to have it in the legs at that point. Everything’s got to line up.”
Jorgenson also has some national experience, gaining all-America distinction in the NCAA indoor track and field meet by helping place eighth in the distance medley relay while also finishing 11th in the 800 meters.
Jorgenson, who was 10th in the conference at 25:26.40 and eighth at the regional in 25:19.2, opened aggressively Saturday. He was 24th after 4.6 kilometers before slipping to 48th after 7.0 kilometers and 79th at the finish.
“Like I said, with the all-Americans, any of those guys can really finish in any position and it’s just a matter of how it comes together that day,” Dunham said.
“Noah ran extremely smart. He got out very well and was in a perfect position most of the race but it’s one of those races where he just didn’t quite have it in his legs today. But he was happy with how he put himself in position to do well and he knows he learned a lot today. I think this is going to bode well for him down the road.”
It was the second consecutive year that the Dutch men had multiple individual national meet qualifiers.
Johns Hopkins (Md.) won the women’s team title while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the men’s champion.