Mar. 11, 2017 - After spending most of the day waiting to finish the quest it had set upon, the North Central College men's track and field team had just enough left in the tank to achieve its goal of a fifth NCAA Division III Indoor National Championship on Saturday, coming through in the meet's final event to record a historic victory at Al B. Carius Track.
The Cardinals finished with 34 points to tie the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse atop the team standings, marking the first time in the history of the indoor championship two teams had shared the title. North Central was also a part of the only shared national championship outdoors, tying Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) for first place in the 2000 national finals, also held in Naperville.
"It was nerve-wracking the whole day," said North Central head coachFrank Gramarossoafter seeing his team win its first national track and field title since 2012. "We were anticipating getting some points at the end of the day, but anything can happen. It was great to have the whole team here and do this at home. and now we get to hang another banner."
Having rolled up 26 points in Friday's first day of competition to surge to a large early lead, North Central had three events left in which to take part on Saturday.Adam Poklopopened the day for the hosts with a 13th-place finish in the high jump (six feet, 3 1/2 inches), and the Cardinals were idle untilDhruvil PatelandZach Hirdtook to the track for the 3,000-meter run near the end of the meet. Patel added a second All-America award to his haul for the weekend with a seventh-place finish (eight minutes, 23.62 seconds), while Hird placed 11th (8:25.78).
That left only the 4-by-400-meter relay, in which North Central and Wisconsin-La Crosse were both entered. The Cardinals held a four-point lead over the Eagles heading into the race, and North Central's quartet ofDaniel Spaccapaniccia,Zach Kirby,Ben NordmanandPeyton Pironhad been apprised of the situation facing them before the gun went off.
"I opened my mouth and went to the clerking area, and I told them, 'If La Crosse wins the 4-by-4, we have to be third in order to tie,'" Gramarosso said. "They said, 'Don't worry coach, we've got it.'"
The competitors showed no ill effects after being informed of the stakes, finishing with a season-best time of 3:17.20 which ranks them as the fourth-fastest relay squad in North Central's history indoors, though Wisconsin-La Crosse did finish ahead of the Cardinals in 3:15.81. With one final heat of the relay remaining, all North Central could do was wait and watch.
The University of Mount Union clocked a time of 3:16.97 in the second heat to place second, but the tie for first place in the team competition was sealed when Bethel University's team finished just shy of the Cardinals' time in 3:17.55.
"That was the longest three minutes and 17 seconds of my life," Piron said. "I don't think it's hit us yet. It's really unbelievable. I have no words for it."
The Cardinals' relay team earned All-America accolades for the third time as a group, having done so at the indoor and outdoor national championships in 2016. The North Central program now has an even 500 All-America awards in track and field in its history.
North Central now has 11 total team national championship in track and field (six outdoor, five indoor) and 33 team national championships overall. The Cardinals also won their 17th Division III national title in men's cross country last fall, a national record among all NCAA divisions.