Men's Cross Country Takes 11th at NCAA Nationals

MXC - Team @ Nationals (photo by Jennifer Tavé)

Men’s cross country team at NCAA Nationals. Photo by Jennifer Tavé.

In a fitting end to the best men’s cross country season in Academy of Art University history, the Urban Knights finished 11th overall, the highest ever by a Pacific West Conference team and four spots ahead of their projection, at the 2016 NCAA Division II National Championships on Nov. 19.

“It was a true team effort,” said Director of Track & Field/Cross Country Torrey Olson. “This feels like the culmination of something these guys set out for months ago. They have set a standard for future Urban Knights in this program that I couldn’t be more proud of.”

The Urban Knights ranked No. 15 nationally, their highest ranking in program history after taking fourth at the West Regional Championships two weeks prior, but looked to prove something even greater. As the sun dawned on The Abbey Course on the campus of Saint Leo University, ART U stepped to the line for its final 10k race of the season.

In the first third of the race, PacWest Newcomer of the Year Gatien Airiau (Communications & Media Technologies) paced Academy of Art around 48th place, but halfway through, PacWest Runner of the Year Joshua Thorson (Industrial Design) had made an incredible 43-spot jump to sit in 52nd overall. Fellow graduate student Kris Everett (Advertising) was not far behind Thorson, rising 56 spots as the final 1.2k approached. Both would continue to climb down the stretch as Thorson, who at one point ran with each of his top four teammates, moved up six places to become an NCAA All-American in 40th overall (31:20.4) and Everett made an 11-spot jump for 55th (31:37.7).

MXC Joshua Thorson All-American (photo by Jennifer Tavé)

All-American Joshua Thorson. Photo by Jennifer Tavé.

“It’s an honor to be an All-American, but I think above all it just adds to the fire to do something big in track,” said Thorson. “I was really impressed with how this team rolled with the intense environment and stayed relaxed in the days and hours before the race. We were all excited, but used that to focus us, rather than distract us. I’m incredibly proud of how this team followed through with the goals they set out to reach from the beginning of the season.”

Graduate student Pierre Fontanarosa (Communications & Media Technologies), who led the Urban Knights at Regionals, would make his own move in the second half of the race as well, passing more than 25 individuals for 62nd overall with a time of 31:42.4. Airiau, despite going out strong and falling a few places in the final 5k, still finished 72nd overall (one spot back of where Fontanarosa ended up in 2015) at 31:53.3 with an important contribution to the team score.

“I felt confident about what we could do because of the team’s approach,” said Olson. “Even though it was Nationals, the preparation and mindset where the same we’ve had all year. The guys were very composed and knew what they needed to do.”

Redshirt sophomore Brett Bermudez (Animation & Visual Effects) pushed through a mostly uphill 10k course and warm conditions with 90 percent humidity, finishing 155th across the line with a 33:07.3 mark.

Academy of Art combined to take 11th out of 32 teams for the highest finish to date by a PacWest program, once again besting conference rival California Baptist who came in at 15th overall (CBU’s previous top marks at Nationals had been 22nd and 24th). ART U was actually one-hundredth of a second better than 10th-place Saginaw Valley in terms of total time, but a three-point difference in the scoring of the individuals put the Cardinals ahead.