BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Led by junior co-captain Jimmy Miller, the Lehigh men’s cross country team won its first ever Patriot League championship behind three top 10 finishes for a two-point victory over the Navy Midshipmen. Miller crossed the line in 25:41.3 for a fourth-place finish, as sophomore Ryan Mahalsky (25:42.8) took fifth and junior co-captain Tyler Mueller finished seventh (25:47.1). The Mountain Hawks scored a combined 54 points, edging Navy’s 56 for the title.
"This is a dream come true to see these guys come in and work as hard as they have," said head coach Todd Etters. "They put it all out there and it was awesome to be a part of this championship. Jimmy is about as tough as they get mentally and he was ready to go. He put himself in the right position and showed he is capable of some great things. It was really special to see him put this race together."
The closest Lehigh had come to the title before this year was a second-place finish in 1992. Navy entered the race ranked ninth in the latest regional rankings, but Lehigh was ranked three places ahead in sixth.
"I’ve been at Lehigh since 1998 when I was a freshman as a student and it’s really nice to see all the work and effort of the guys pay off," said Etters. "Everyone in the program was a part of this, and this is something that happened because a lot of people put a lot of work into it. It is also special as an alumnus to receive all the congratulations and well wishes that I have gotten. Beating the caliber of team like Navy made this that much more special as well."
Along with the three top 10 finishers, junior Sam Bernitt placed 12th in 25:57.2, followed by sophomore Casey Gilboy in 26th (26:35.4), junior Russ Vignali in 35th (27:00.2) and freshman Evan Hardy who crossed the line in 27:01.6 (36th). With their performances, Miller, Mahalsky and Mueller earned first team All-Patriot League honors, while Bernitt earned second team All-Patriot League after his 12th-place performance.
"We were kind of scattered after the race because we thought that we may had lost, but when they announced that we had won it was awesome to see the team react and something I‘ll never forget," said Etters.
Lehigh’s four All-Patriot League performances are the most in a single season in program history, edging the three Mountain Hawks that were selected following a third-place finish in the 2008 Patriot League Championships.
Finishing behind Lehigh and Navy was American with 74 points. The rest of the field rounded out with Army in fourth (83), Bucknell finishing fifth (120), host Colgate in sixth (130) and Holy Cross (198) and Lafayette (245) placing seventh and eighth, respectively. Senior Chris Johnson of Colgate repeated as the individual champion after finishing in 25:11.0 on his home course, while Navy’s Steven Schroeder was the Patriot League’s Rookie of the Year after crossing the line in 18th as the first freshman of any of the teams.
The only other Patriot League cross country championship that Lehigh had boasted leading into this year was the women’s 1992 championship team that defeated the rest of the field by 10 points, finishing ahead of Fordham 39-49.
"We’re going to have to reel in our emotions a bit," said Etters. "We’re going to enjoy this but we have to refocus because the expectations went up a little bit now, but so did our confidence. I think we proved today that we’re among the top teams in the region."
Following the first title in program history, head coach Todd Etters was announced as the Patriot League's Coach of the Year becoming the first Lehigh coach to awarded the honor since it's establishment in 1991.
The men will now compete in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Qualifiers in University Park, Pa. on November 9 at 12 p.m. for an opportunity to advance to the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky.