North Central Men’s Cross Country Season Recap: Another CCIW and trip to the National Championship for the Cardinals’ winningest program.
For North Central men’s cross country, winning isn’t just the expectation but a formality. With now 47 consecutive CCIW titles, the team works to never get complacent and take that level of consistent excellence for granted.
Connor Riss, Junior: “Every year’s a new year. Every year’s a different team. No one team is ever going to be exactly the same. So I think every year we come back in there’s kind of a new found energy with this different group of people…We found a lot of energy within one another to work with each other knowing that we want to be on top of the conference meet, we want to be competing to win the regional championship, and then once we get to the national championship obviously competing for that as well.”
Frank Gramarosso, Head Coach: “It was difficult for everyone during COVID, especially with no competitions trying to teach the underclassmen what the process is and we had some success doing that but it was challenging. And then we were shut down at Halloween so we made a lot of progress over the summer and this year with the sophomores are really freshman competing so it was a great learning experience for everyone.”
Returning to a full schedule for the first time since 2019, this year’s team tried to draw on those experiences and particularly the lessons learned from that team’s seniors who won three consecutive national championships between 2016 – 2018. This season felt in some ways like the beginning of a new era, in which a young team experienced a lot of growth in and out of competition.
Julian Higueros, Junior: “I could tell that there was something within those group of guys in 2019 when they came back where was like, not that I was intimidated but I wanted to be there someday. Those guys were a part of national championship teams and they learned and gained a lot of experience from those teams”
CR: “It was great because last year we didn’t have a whole lot of competition. We just did everything with our own squad, with our own guys. So this year, the first couple meets were a bit of a wakeup call because we hadn’t really been out on a real cross-country course for about two years. And then from there on it was just growth and getting better each and every week.”
FG: “We’re looking for each individual to be the best they can be. There’s a lot of growth that takes place with every person and then collectively as a team. It’s not the end result, it’s the whole process throughout the season, the development that each individual has that collectively make up the team. We don’t sit down and say ‘we’re gonna try to win the national championships this year.’”
JH: “There’s a saying we have here, we treat every single race like it’s the national meet. We treat every single race like it’s the same thing. That might be kind of tone deaf to the national championship, but in reality it’s just preparing us for that national championship.”
This was the team’s first full season not being led by legendary coach Al Carius, who now serves as an assistant after 54 years at the helm. But he continues to be an instrumental presence for new generations of Cardinal runners.
FG: “I’ve been by his side for 38 years and he’s still here. He made every morning and afternoon pracitce, and I know he likes to sit back but I have him speak to the team every day. He still has a lot of knowledge to give them, so it’s great that he’s still able to contribute in some way.”
Senior Gabe Pommier was named an All – American and the team advanced to the national championships, but a combination of cold and flu that swept through the team in the season’s final week saw them finish twelfth in the nation, well below what they think they’re capable of at full strength. But they’re trying to focus on the big picture and the future benefits from this year
JH: “It’s a team of growth, of understanding and of just really enjoying each other, tapping into that love you know? This season was all about that and I’m really grateful for this team regardless of the outcome.”
CR: “This year was a really good stepping-stone into that learning experience that we all gained, especially through those regional and national championship meets that we can carry into track season and into next cross-country season. Because really at the end of the day every race that we’ve run, every practice we’ve gone to is an experience and we’ve been trying to learn and grow from each and every one of those experiences to take that not only into the next race but into the rest of our lives.”