Back-to-back Iowa Conference champions (2012, 2013)
HANOVER, IND.--Eli Horton (junior, Altoona, Southeast Polk HS) sprinted to the early lead and finished fourth at the NCAA Division III men's cross country championships Saturday to lead Central College to sixth place. Both finishes are the best in Central history.
Horton turned in a career-best effort of 24:35.2 on the 8,000-meter course, a step quicker than his 24:35.97 effort at the Central Regional at Northfield, Minn. Nov. 16. Iowa Conference MVP Austin O'Brien (senior, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley HS) was 11th in 25:02.2 to give the Dutch two all-America honorees.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF HANOVER COLLEGE (IND.)
The previous best national individual finish for Central was 18th by Jerry Fitzsimmons in 1979. The top team showing was a tie for 12th a year ago.
Cole Decker (sophomore, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) was 47th in 25:32 and Drew Jackson (junior, Johnston) was 87th in 25:50.8, but perhaps the day's pivotal performance was turned in by Jamie Vander Veer (junior, Knoxville), who was Central's No. 5 runner for only the second time, placing 178th in 26:26.3, slicing nearly 14 seconds off his career best of 26:40 at the Iowa Conference meet Nov. 2. The only other time Vander Veer had been in the team's top five as a counter was in the season-opening Central Dutch Invitational Sept. 7, when the Dutch were not at full strength. He finished in 29:21, nearly three minutes slower than he ran Saturday.
Freshman Isaac Steffensmeier (St. Paul, Fort Madison HS) was 222nd in 26:45.1 while senior Brett Ewing (Cinncinati, Centerville HS) was 247th in 27:13.3.
While it was another milestone day for the program Dunham has thrust into the national spotlight, it’s perhaps a sign of how far the team has come that a sixth-place NCAA finish was greeted with a shrug by the runners.
“It was an interesting team meeting after the race,” Dunham said. “There was an air of disappointment, as hard as it is to say that when you finish sixth in the nation. We didn’t run as well as we’d hoped. But it was not for lack of effort. They all got out hard and stuck to our game plan, but it just wasn’t our day.
“It’s a very similar feeling to last year. We were happy to be there and happy to be 12th but we wanted more.”
As the Dutch headed home, Dunham said they could take some satisfaction in continuing to move the program forward. Central had never won an Iowa Conference men’s cross country title before last season.
“This was another step in a positive direction,” Dunham said. “We need to be happy by how much we improved.
“Obviously we want to win a national championship like St. Olaf did today. We’ve got to go back and keep working. A lot of it has to do with recruiting and a lot has to do with what the guys do in the summer. Hopefully, we’ll keep it rolling. That’s the challenge.”