Men’s cross-country posts best NCAA Championship finish in program history

| Senior Sports Editor

The Washington University men’s cross-country team placed second at the NCAA Championship, the new high-water mark in school history.

In the national meet Saturday at Lake Breeze Golf Club in Winneconne, Wis., the Bears scored 110 points, second only to No. 1 North Central College’s 43.

Senior Brad Hodkinson nearly had a historic afternoon in his home state. On the flat eight-kilometer course, Hodkinson climbed from 17th at the 2.3-kilometer marker to first as the race reached its apex through 7.1 kilometers. Hodkinson ultimately fell back to seventh place, matching his finish last year as a member of Pacific Lutheran University.

Junior Nick Matteucci worked all the way back from 55th at the initial marker to finish 10th with a season-best time of 24:43.9, earning his first All-American accolade in the process.

Senior Peter Johnsrud, meanwhile, managed his second All-American finish, placing 31st just 0.6 seconds ahead of the final point-earning North Central runner.

Graduate student David O’Gara finished fourth in his final race for the Red and Green, who were rounded out by sophomore Joe Stover. He doubled down on his personal-best time set last week at the Midwest Regionals with a new best of 25:12.8.

For O’Gara, being a part of Wash. U.’s best-ever group was five years in the making. He reflected on its place in Red and Green history.

“The thing that really makes it special is being able to share with the team, being able to train with this group and see us all develop,” O’Gara said. “Seeing how invested not only the people running in the meet but all of our teammates as well are, seeing how much it means to our alums and the people who came before us, I think really allowed us to feel how much of a journey this really was. It wasn’t just this year or the five years that I’ve been here, it’s been this whole process.”

According to O’Gara, the Bears were able to pull off the result because of their experience. With seven upperclassmen running, Wash. U. had a group that wasn’t going to be overwhelmed by nationals, and truly treat it as just another meet.

“We really relied on our guys who had been there before and learning that we don’t have to do anything different,” O’Gara said. “We had a group that really internalized that and really believed it, which I think allowed us to really capitalize on the moment.”

Still, even for a veteran who has been through dozens of races, O’Gara himself needed someone to remind him to trust his talent. Dealing with late-season injuries, O’Gara adjusted his mindset to work through the bumps and bruises.

“I really relied on some advice from [head coach Jeff] Stiles, him telling me that I had five years of fitness that I had been building up and that a couple bumps late in the year were not really going to change that in a meaningful way,” O’Gara said. “Really trusting in what Stiles was telling me and relying on the rest of the guys to keep the same environment, keep the same attitude that we had, I think allowed me to not get too distracted by it.”