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North Central cross country wins its 16th title

BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI

Special to the Sun-Times

North Central’s 16th NCAA Division III cross-country championship was not unexpected. The Cardinals were ranked No. 1 going into the meet Saturday in Mason, Ohio, where they totaled 130 points to top St. Olaf (143).

But it wasn’t easy for the Cardinals, who were second to St. Olaf last year. Troy Kelleher fell on the icy, muddy course and slipped from his position near the front to more than 100 runners back. Zach Plank and Ben Dickshinski also fell within the first kilometer, and it was looking like it might not be North Central’s day.

“In the middle of the race, I was thinking, I’m very, very proud of this team, but I have to think of something to say to them because I don’t think [we’ll win],” said coach Al Carius, who Tuesday was named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division III National Cross Country Coach of the Year for the ninth time. “I wanted to have something upbeat and positive to say, and I wanted to be gracious and say, Hey, St. Olaf, they did it again, because I thought they probably did.”

By the end, Carius had plenty to be upbeat about. Seventh-place Travis Morrison and 12th-place Aron Sebhat earned All-America honors. Plank and Kelleher fought back to finish 44th and 46th. Root rounded out the North Central scorers in 54th, and non-scorers Dickshinski in 74th and Tim Vazquez in 79th gave the Cardinals seven runners ahead of St. Olaf’s fifth scorer.

The ability and determination to come back made it a special day for North Central.

“It was a real tribute to the fighting nature of this team that they hung in there and would not give up at a point where it really looked pretty desperate for us,” Carius said. “They could easily have said, ‘I’m having a bad day, I can’t run,’ but they came out there fighting, fighting, fighting and came back.”

More cross-country

Will Cross became the first Elmhurst runner to earn back-to-back All-America honors when he finished the Division III meet in 24:24.7, good for 16th place.

In the NAIA men’s nationals in Lawrence, Kansas, won by Oklahoma City, Olivet Nazarene finished third and St. Francis of Joliet eighth. It was the third consecutive top-10 finish for St. Francis.

Wheaton football rolls

CCIW champion Wheaton (11-0) whipped visiting NACC champ Benedictine (6-5) 43-14 in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

The Thunder rolled up 325 rushing yards, including 121 yards and two touchdowns by Danny Puknaitis.

Next up is a home game Saturday against John Carroll (10-1), a 63-28 winner over Centre.

St. Xavier wins thriller

John Rhode completed 30 of 50 passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns, and receiver Stephen Simms had eight catches for 210 yards and two TDs as St. Xavier (9-2) held off visiting Campbellsville in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. In second-round play Saturday, the Cougars host No. 6 Lindsey Wilson (10-2).