BYU, Colorado Take Men's Crowns

Nov. 20, 2006

By Brett Hess

Special to


TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - All Josh Rohatinsky was thinking about was getting to the 8K (5 mile) mark. It mattered little to him that the race was 10 kilometers long.


 "To be honest, I wasn't feeling too well the first 5 kilometers," Rohatinsky said. "I kept thinking I would start feeling better if I just kept going."


Eventually, Rohatinsky started to feel better. And before he knew it, he was feeling a whole lot better, soaking in a national championship.


Rohatinsky pulled away from Stanford's Neftalem Araia over the last mile of Monday's NCAA Division I Men's Cross Country Championships, winning by eight seconds. Rohatinsky finished the 6.2-mile race in 30 minutes, 44 seconds. After Araia, Jess Baumgartner of Southern Utah (30:53), Lopez Lomong of Northern Arizona (30:59) and Martin Fagan of Providence (30:59) completed the top five.


No. 2-ranked Colorado had a similar route to its championship, pulling away from top-ranked Wisconsin over the final mile to win the team title with 94 points. The Badgers (142), Iona (172) and Stanford (195) rounded out the top four teams. Because of computerized scoring, the crowd was kept abreast of the team score. At the 8K mark Wisconsin held a slim lead over Colorado.


Rohatinsky ran Monday with supreme confidence, despite being one of 10 runners who had a shot at the individual title. And for most of the race, it appeared as though all 10 of those runners refused to back down. The lead pack rumbled over the hilly and muddy terrain, continually changing order.


 "I knew if I could just get to the 8K mark with the lead, I would win," Rohatinsky said. "I just kept telling myself, stay up front, be in control, good things will happen.


 "If I can make it a 2K race, then I am pretty confident in my chances. I just didn't know if I could stay with the others that long."


Sure enough, that 10-person pack was whittled in half by the 8K mark with Rohatinsky and Araia a stride in front. It was then that Araia made a move, spurred on by the crowd.


"It was great having a lot of my former high school teammates and coaches and friends here," said Araia, a schoolboy All-American from Indianapolis. "The whole race, I heard people screaming my name. Even the guys driving in the Gators in front of me are friends of mine."


Araia's surge was answered only by Rohatinsky, who stayed within two strides of the Stanford star. Then with less than a mile to go, Rohatinsky made his move.


"I knew I had to go and it felt good," Rohatinsky said. "With about 400 meters to go, I peaked back and saw Nef about 20 meters back. It was a great feeling."


Rohatinsky, who was sixth last year, was certainly on the short list of favorites for Monday's title. But it was in similar conditions two years ago, on the same course, that he ran poorly and finished 32nd.


 "I think I am a lot stronger now," Rohatinsky said. "I was prepared for this today, so it wasn't such a surprise."


It wasn't that big of a surprise to see Colorado unseat Wisconsin for the team title either. Although Wisconsin came in ranked No. 1 and a favorite to defend its championship, Colorado ran with a certain, say, confidence. Just don't call it "entitlement", said Colorado coach Mark Wetmore.


 "We definitely had some conversations....not to presume that we'd win just because we are Colorado," Wetmore said. "We want to avoid that sense of entitlement that would make us soft. We talked about that."


Wetmore was obviously referring to the Buffaloes' disappointing fifth-place finish last year on the same course. Then, the Buffaloes were the defending champions. Let's just say this year's Colorado team learned its lesson from the vaunted coach.


"We have a lot of great senior leadership," Wetmore said. "This is our most experienced team."


Colorado was led by Brent Vaughn in 12th overall (8th in team scoring) followed by Stephen Pifer in (20th and 10th), Erik Heinonen (28th and 15th), James Strang (47th and 27th) and Billy Nelson (56th and 34th). Vaughn, Heinonen and Nelson are seniors, the other two juniors.


Heinonen, a fifth-year runner, especially drew praise from Wetmore.


 "He's battled back from so many injuries," Wetmore said of Heinonen. "For him to complete this season, his first really healthy one, really helped us."





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