As the lead pack cleared the 4,000-meter mark, Hoff took a commanding lead. He continued on to a first-place finish, following in the footsteps of past teammate and All-American, Malcolm Richards 05, who won the event last year.
Hoff entered the season as an All-Conference and All-Region runner as well the top returning runner from last years Nationals team. However, his decisive victory on Saturday came as a greater surprise to Hoff than his teammates.
Tony Hoff is a scary guy, team co-captain Marc Ellingson 06 said. He looked tough in that race and it was no surprise that he won it.
Coach Bill Thornton was pleased with Hoffs performance as well. [I was] thrilled to get to watch Tony win his first cross country race as a collegian, Thornton said.
The mens team finished sixth overall, behind MIAC rivals St. Johns and Macalester College, who placed second and fourth in the event, respectively. The team is reorienting this season after the loss of Richards and fellow All-American Kelly Fulton 05, but the Oles are returning five of the seven men who competed at the 2004 national meet, including All-Conference and All-Regional runner Sam Hauck 06, David Swanson 08 and team co-captain Jason Havey 06. Ellingson is currently sidelined with an injury.
John Lamppa and Andrew Petz are really fit and poised for breakout seasons, Havey said. Lamppa 07 and Petz 07 finished third and sixth, respectively, for the Oles on Saturday.
Still, despite Hoffs triumph, a slight unease pervades the team who has to defend its MIAC crown. To put it plainly, the pressure is on. The Oles are returning to defend their first MIAC team championship victory in team history and the responsibility is not lost on the Ole harriers.
We cant expect to do well as a team if we have a two and a half minute spread, Ellingson said, referring to the interval between Hoff and Havey on Saturday.
Saturday was not the MIAC meet and we're a team traditionally known for coming on strong in late October and November when it really matters, Havey said. We know we have a lot of work to do.
The Oles must rely on new talent from a large pool of first year and sophomore runners, as well as the expertise of the veterans, in order to vie with perennial opponents Carleton, St. Johns, Macalester, Hamline and St. Thomas.
Newcomer Cullen ONeil 09 finished fifth for the Oles and 44th overall in his homecoming debut.
Young talent like ONeil helps to keep momentum rolling from one season to the next, but it is old-fashioned hard work that will determine the winners at the end of the day.
The Oles make their next appearance at the Bluegold Invitational in Colfax, Wis., on Oct. 1, the site of their seventh-place team finish at the National meet last November. No matter what shadows or memories travel with them, one can be assured that this years team is looking ahead.