The Ole men were the proverbial wild cards in the MIAC deck, as the team had not raced since mid-September. St. Olaf all but disappeared from the Division III national rankings (despite finishing seventh at Nationals last year) as the pre-meet hype began to center around Hamline, Carleton and Saint Johns.
On Saturday, however, none of that mattered. The Ole men turned heads for the second consecutive year at Como Park, beating Macalester and St. Johns to finish third in the meet.
"I was very pleased to finish third behind Hamline and Carleton," head coach Bill Thornton said. "I was surprised at how overwhelmingly dominating the Hamline team was."
Hamline put five athletes in the top 10 to win the event with a stunning score of 32 points and a first through fifth spread of just 33 seconds. Carleton was a distant second with 59 points and St. Olaf followed with 91. The Oles put two runners in the top 10 and a third in the top 25.
The race for the conference individual crown began seconds after the gun went off when a group of six separated from the main pack, including Oles Sam Hauck 06 and Tony Hoff 07. That same pack would lead the eight kilometer race the entire way.
Going into the final thousand meters of the course, the race was still virtually deadlocked. All-American Jeff Metzdorf of Hamline was the pre-meet favorite, but as the runners emerged from a tunnel 200 meters before the finish, it was Hauck who had a commanding lead.
Hauck flew past a screaming crowd of spectators to cross the finish with a time of 25:50, almost eight seconds ahead of Metzdorf. Hoff was close behind, finishing sixth with a time of 26:17.
When asked about the race, Hauck proclaimed the victory "the best moment of my life."
Thornton was also impressed with the performance of his top runner.
"After finishing fifth as a sophomore and 12th last year as junior [Hauck] really made a statement with his victory on Saturday," Thornton said.
"Sam ran an amazing race. He showed no mercy in that last mile," co-captain Marc Ellingson 06 said.
Also notable was the performance of co-captain Jason Havey 06, who finished third for the Oles, nabbing an All-Conference honorable mention with a time of 27:12.
The remaining members of the Ole top seven were David Swanson 08, Andrew Petz 07, Cullen ONiell 09 and John Lamppa 07.
As the tension and passion of the MIAC Championship starts to wear off, the Ole men have already begun to focus on the Nov. 12 Central Region Championships in Waverly, Iowa.
"We would have to be considered a bubble team at this point," said Thornton about his teams regional chances.
In the meantime, the rest of the team is trying to prepare for the Great Karhu Shoe Race, an annual dual meet between the St. Olaf and Carleton junior varsity squads. The event is as fraught with tension as any in the season, with both teams vying for a pair of shoes that once belonged to All-American and recent faculty emeritus David Wee 61. The Karhu race will take place Friday afternoon at Carleton.