In Ben Raphelson’s first year as Head Coach of the men’s and women’s cross-country teams, he sent four athletes to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III National Championship in Louisville, Kentucky on November 20. All four individuals set personal best times and outperformed their own expectations and much of the competition.
John Hood ’22 had ambitious goals going into the race.
“I had a goal to finish in the top 200. I wanted to set a personal best, and I wanted to break 26 minutes,” Hood said.
Hood accomplished and surpassed all of his goals. He finished 151 out of 289 participants—passing 112 people over the course of the race and setting a new personal best time by an entire minute to finish in a time of 25:05. Hood, who also competes in indoor and outdoor track, admitted that he was initially unsure of his ability to finish under the 26 minute benchmark.
“I really wasn’t sure [about breaking 26 minutes],” Hood said. “We went out fast, but coming down the home stretch, I saw 24-something [minutes on the clock] so I knew I was going to break 26 [minutes]. I was surprised [at my time]”.
Hood was not the only Polar Bear to shatter his pre-race expectations. Andrew Meredith ’22 broke his personal record by 24 seconds, finishing in 192nd place. On the women’s side, Leila Trummel ’23 crossed the finish line 94th out of 292 runners and improved her personal best by nearly 50 seconds, and Cameron Mackenzie ’22 finished in 120th place, improving her previous personal best time by 45 seconds.
The athletes were not alone in their surprise about their massive time improvements. Raphelson, despite having the utmost confidence in his team, said the cohort of Polar Bears excelled even more than he had predicted.
“I did not necessarily expect one-minute personal records,” Raphelson said. “I knew they were capable of it, but it boils down to course conditions, which are out of our control.”
The team had an impressive performance on the national stage, though this was one of their few larger, more competitive meets of the regular season. Raphelson explained that favoring small meets such as Bowdoin Invitationals was primarily in response to COVID-19 barriers.
“Some of [our participation in small meets] is a fluke, and some of it is that coming out of COVID-19. We would not have been able to go to some big meets early in the season,” Raphelson said.
Additionally, some of the meets on their calendar such as the Maine State Meet, composed of only small Division III programs, remain on the team’s schedule annually. While these meets provide bonding opportunities for NESCAC runners and consistency, they do not always offer the steep competition that lends itself to fast times and personal records.
“[The Maine State Meet] is a big deal,” Raphelson said. “But there are only eleven teams, and beyond Colby and Bates we really don’t have a lot of competition.”
Having to choose between attending a larger, more competitive meet and the smaller Suffolk Invitational in Franklin Park, Massachusetts, Raphelson decided to send his team to the latter, hoping to optimize their ability to prepare for important upcoming races.
“We could have gone to some bigger meets, but I wanted them to see the course where [the East Regional meet] was held,” Raphelson said. “I wanted to prepare them to race well there as opposed to introducing them to a bigger field.”
Despite Raphelson’s conservative strategy, he is not ruling out entering the team in more large competitions in the future.
“As the team gets more competitive, we will seek out more interregional competitions to boost credentials for earning an NCAA qualification,” Raphelson said. “But I don’t have any regrets about the meets we went to this year.
Hood echoed the sentiments of his coach, saying he had no regrets about his final season wearing the Bowdoin cross-country uniform.
“Each time I raced, I wanted to make sure I was leaving everything out there because it was such a rewarding experience,” Hood said. “I would love to experience something like [competing at a national championship] again with my teammates.”