North Central men’s cross country enters a new era
“It was pretty emotional,” said first-year head men’s cross country coach coach Matt Sinnott, upon hearing the news that legendary coaches Al Carius and Frank Gramarosso would be retiring. “I wasn’t even thinking about what’s going to happen to me. But it was very emotional because of just my long history with Frank and Al and the program and the uncertainty. What’s going to happen, you know?”
“So initially when we heard the news of Al and Grammy retiring, you know, the initial response was like, it’s just a big question mark,” recalled sophomore Drew Guimond. “Who would take over? How would the program progress into the season? But once we found out it was Matt Sinnott, you know, taking the reins, it was you know, we were very excited.”
“Obviously, it’s, you know, a change to not have Al and Grammy around on a daily basis, but we still see them around now and then, and it’s great to still have their energy around,” said senior Connor Riss. “But having Sinnott around is, I mean, something that I’ve experienced for the last four years, like, you know, Sinnott was our freshman coach when I first came in my freshman year. So I’ve always had a good relationship with him throughout my four years. And having him step into that role just kind of seemed like the natural decision, you know?”
“I never thought I’d be here this this long,” said Sinnott, who served as an assistant to Carius and then Gramarosso I never thought I’d get to be here in this capacity. So it is very surreal, but it is truly an honor to have Al’s philosophy of run for fun and personal bests continue. It’s it’s deep in my DNA, along with thousands of other alums that have come through here. So it feels good that as an alum myself, to know that the philosophy is continuing with somebody, anybody who has it deep within them. But I’m blessed that it’s me.
Rebuilding a historic culture
Sinnott is the first head coach the North Central men’s cross country team has had other than Frank Gramarosso or Al Carius since 1965. His introduction, combined with 2022 being the first season unaffected by the pandemic since 2019, provided a good opportunity for the team to begin a new chapter of their history and look to return the program to its former heights both on and off the course.
“My freshman year was really where we saw the best form of the culture throughout our four years,” said Riss. “Me and the rest of the upperclassmen all kind of had that same goal to reignite that flame of where the culture was and where we wanted it to be. It wasn’t as much result based, but we knew that results would come as long as we had that culture change back to where we wanted things to be.”
“The culture was not a great spot the past couple of seasons,” agreed Guimond “And we just wanted to do our part to pass the baton on to the next group of seniors coming in. And, you know, we wanted the culture to stay to get back to the top shape that it was previously to continue Al and Grammy’s legacy.”
“Despite all of the positive outcomes, this program has never been about outcome,” said Sinnott. “It’s been about building character within the athlete and developing student athletes to be the best that they can be. And that’s way more important than the streak and way more important than another title or another trophy or another accolade.”
Another season of success
That streak being North Central’s run of consecutive CCIW championships, which they did extend to 45 in a row as the Cardinals’ nine runners claimed the top nine places and all-conference honors at the conference championship meet. Along with Riss who won the race and Guimond who finished second, they were joined by Braden Nicholson, Thomas Rohr, Nigel Neibel, James McGlashon, Max Svienty, Julian Higueros and Jacob Kluckhon. The Cardinals would go on to finish seventh at the NCAA Division III Men’s Cross Country Championship, with Guimond and Riss both finishing in the top 40 and earning All American honors.
“It was something that obviously I would have liked to have more with that team goal that we had towards the end of the national meet,” Riss said of national recognition. “But it’s something that I had set as a goal for myself before I even came into North Central. It was something that I had wanted for a very long time. So to finally be able to kind of, you know, reap the reward of four years worth of training and work to have that, you know, All-American status and all region status again, it was something that I was really thankful to have and kind of a bit of a sigh of relief of like I finally did that. I checked that off the list, you know?”
“As I crossed the finish line, it was a mix of emotions because, you know, individually I felt like I ran the best race that I could,” said Guimond, who led the Cardinals at nationals. “But at the same time, team wise, you know, it’s not all about outcome, but we knew that it just wasn’t our day. So it was a mix of emotions.”
Reviewing this season and looking to the future
With normalcy restored, the team feels like they are back on solid ground to be the dominant force in Division III men’s cross country they’ve come to be known as. Not only has this cross country season helped them regain momentum, but they’ll look to build that further through the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons before hitting the trail again next year.
“I think we are back,” Riss said. “That’s one thing that a few guys have said throughout the season is it’s been so much more exciting to come to practice each and every day and we’ve all enjoyed working out with each other and we all enjoy just being around each other and being present in the moment and we kind of just take that step into the indoor and outdoor track season.”
“This goes back a couple of years and we’re seeing the fruits of a reboot, getting things going again, said Sinnott. “When we lost so many seniors due to graduation and the uncertainty of no competition, I don’t blame them at all for some of those hard decisions that they had to make. But we had to invest a lot of time in some underclassmen who are now the juniors and seniors that are performing at this level. So I’m most proud that they’ve gotten to see the fruits of all the labor for three years.”
Riss is one of several seniors who were able to help usher in the new era by having been part of the team before the pandemic, and that unique experience has provided no shortage of perspective and lessons to take forward beyond their collegiate careers. As for the runners who will return next year, they’ve been shown the way and have a strong season to build on. All indications are that this team will be outrunning the competition for many more years to come.
“This program obviously trains us to be better runners, but it trains us even more to be good people and the most prepared people once we get into the real world,” Riss reflectd. “Everything that I learned throughout practice, I take away sure as an athlete and I learn how to get better in my workouts. I learn how to improve this race strategy. But the more important things that I take away, or life lessons from my coaches and my teammates and people that I care about who are giving me valuable information and valuable teachings every single day to try and be the best person that I can be once I get into the real society.”
“Yeah, I definitely feel at peace,” Guimond said of both his own performance and the state of the team. “I feel like I did everything in my power to individually and as a team to be as prepared as possible for nationals, which is our main goal. And I couldn’t ask for anything more from the season.”