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Volume 77, Number 26 | November 28 - December 04 2007

Sports

Hany Abdallah, a tri-captain of N.Y.U.’s cross-country team, took ninth place individually at the N.C.A.A. Division III National Championship. Abdallah and teammate Jesse Schneider earned All-American honors by finishing in the top 25.

With teamwork, N.Y.U. cross-country wins N.C.A.A.

By Judith Stiles

In the 1962 movie “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” actor Tom Courtenay gave a stunning portrayal of the isolation that often goes hand in hand with this solo sport. In this story, he is a solitary athlete who often grapples with his inner demons while he is running. Today, runners often use iPods to shut out immediate noise as they retreat into a more personal world during workouts.

People often choose running for exercise because they don’t like team sports, so it is surprising to learn that for cross-country star Ryan Williams of New York University, running has largely been a group effort, full of camaraderie and teamwork.

“Hany Abdallah, Jesse Schneider and I are the best 1-2-3 combination in the country,” declared Williams, beaming with pride. Proving true the saying that good things come in threes, this trio of athletes led the N.Y.U. men’s cross-country team to win its first N.C.A.A. Division III National Championship at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

Two hundred eighty runners on 32 teams ran the 8,000-meter course on Nov. 17. Although the individual first-place winner was from University of Wisconsin, the top five N.Y.U. runners’ cumulative points earned the Violets first place as a team, with 128 points, comfortably besting second-place Haverford College by 22 points.

N.Y.U.’s top finisher was Abdallah, who took ninth place over all with a time of 24:51.3.

“I had hit a wall in the first mile and knew that individually I wasn’t going to win,” Abdallah said. “But, I knew I had to tough it out for the team. I just wasn’t sure we had done enough to win it. When we won, everything else was forgotten.”

Toughing it out for the team was part of a larger philosophy that governed their training all season.

“Although I run as an individual, we run differently against each other because we work together in a race. We even talk to each other,” said tri-captain Williams, explaining how he balanced trying to best his individual time while running alongside and against his teammates. For example, when someone in the 1-2-3 combo started to fall off, the others encouraged him to forge on.

“When I run against a competitor I want him to give up as I sprint by, but with a teammate I would never do that,” noted Williams.

An ordinary spectator who watched the Nationals in Michigan might have guessed that the N.Y.U. runners were a bunch of cutthroat athletes who wanted to individually place first at all costs. On the contrary, N.Y.U.’s cross-country striders placed a premium on working together — and the diary of Williams gives a glimpse into the powerful effect of the teamwork that often overshadowed individual ambition.

As Williams wrote: “We were all inside waiting for the results, hoping that somehow our effort was enough. We had to wait 10 minutes for the officials to add up the scores. This seemed to take forever. Suddenly, our teammates ran into the gym screaming from seeing the scores posted. We all went crazy! None of us could believe it! We were all jumping up and down in pure excitement. We had some sparkling cider and shot it everywhere. It was a mix of tears, smiles and insane excitement. I can’t believe this season is over, and I can’t believe we won despite not running our best races.”

None of N.Y.U.’s top five runners were able to beat Tyler Sigl of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, who won the individual title with a time of 24:24.0. Following N.Y.U.’s top finisher Abdallah was Schneider in 21st place (25:05.5). N.Y.U. senior Spenser Popeson took 46th place (25:22.1). Senior James Mc Carthy was next in 47th place (25:22.7), followed closely by senior Williams in 53rd place (25:27.0).

“This was a tremendous accomplishment. All the hard work paid off and I thought we could get the job done,” said Head Coach Nicholas McDonough (a.k.a. Nick) as he basked in the glory of the team’s being national champions.

After returning to the Big Apple the cross-country squad went for a recreational run, just for fun. Then they hung out by their gigantic trophy, which sits in a brightly lit showcase in the Coles Sports Center on Mercer St. Next to the trophy is a touch of memorabilia, a pair of bright-purple track shoes, with blades of grass and fresh dirt stuck to the soles.

McCarthy, who was N.Y.U.’s fourth finisher, surrendered his beloved track shoes to the display in a salute to this great team. Perhaps they will inspire a new crop of runners to live up to their accomplishments. Coach McDonough recognizes that the bar is set very high for next year. As he ambled back to his office, he mused, “It is a new day and time to get ready for next season.”


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