The men’s cross country team recently finished their 2012 season, which ended with the team traveling to Indiana to compete in the NCAA Division III National Championships. This is the first time the Leopards have ever sent a whole team to nationals.
Junior Alberto Acosta, sophomore Jayden Earlywine, senior Alex Forbess, freshman Bryan Hayes, senior Sean Kusick, junior A.J. Licon and senior Matthew Sustayta all represented the team in Indiana.
“It was a really fun experience and got to travel basically on the other side of the country to compete at a national level,” Earlywine said.
The Leopards placed 31st overall at the meet with a team total of 768 points.
“It was crazy lining up with 280 other people,” Kusick said. “You just can’t calm down.”
Hayes placed the highest for the Leopards being the 100th runner to cross the finish line.
“It was really humbling, representing La Verne in front of the whole D-III nation,” Hayes said.
Forbess finished 186th with Licon finishing right behind him at 187th.
This was the biggest race that the Leopards have competed in all season, and according to them, the loudest and the fastest.
“As for the race itself, it’s crazy how fast everybody is,” Sustayta said.
“You had to embrace it, or you’d be dead last,” Hayes said.
The team had a lot of success throughout the season, getting top three finishes at five different meets, including a first place finish at the Westmont Invitational earlier in the season.
Along with impressive finishes the Leopards also climbed as high as No. 6 in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Western Region poll.
As the team enjoyed a lot of success on the track, it had to cope with the lows of seeing their head coach Michael Atwood being fired mid-season and internal bickering that lead to team drama.
“We had a couple very low moments this season,” Kusick said. “From the outside it looks like a great season, but from the inside we know how many lows we had. It wasn’t a storybook season.”
“We showed what this team was made of,” Sustayta said. “The lows that we did hit, we knew it was going to be a struggle.”
Through their lows, the team came together and string together a few impressive performances, which led to the team’s best moment of the season.
“The best moment was probably finding out we were going to nationals,” Kusick said.
After the Western Regionals, two of the runners on the men’s team, Forbess and Hayes, were already guaranteed a spot to compete in Indiana, but a call from athletic director Julie Kline let the Leopards know that they were all heading to Indiana.
“I couldn’t be more excited to find out the whole team was going,” Forbess said.
This team of endurance runners has hopefully started something that will soon become a norm for the Leopards cross-country team, reaching nationals.
“We’ve always had this dream and goal to qualify for nationals. We went into it like any other race and didn’t let our emotions get the best of us,” Earlywine said.
Christian Orozco can be reached at email@example.com.