Seven years ago, Temple announced that cross country would be returning to the university’s athletics department. The program was shut down in 1986 to help fund student activities programs like intramural and club sports. But a push to reintroduce it in 2005 by then track & field coach Stephanie Scalessa was successful.
“There is a whole element of track & field from the 800 meters and up that is really fueled by cross country,” Scalessa told The Temple News that season. “In those events, we weren’t having much of a showing. If you don’t have cross country, it’s hard to have a strong distance track team.”
That year, on one chilly Saturday morning at Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia, Temple made its return to the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship, one of the biggest and most competitive races of the year.
It didn’t go well.
Both the men’s and women’s teams placed 13th out of the 14 teams that participated. Freshman Angela Washko led the Owls in the 5k race with an 80th place finish, while freshman Adin Mickle was the top Temple finisher in the 8k, placing 95th overall. The placements defined the two teams as ones that were still far from being competitive forces in the A-10 Conference.
For the men’s team at least, that day may have very well arrived. On Oct. 27, redshirt senior Travis Mahoney bested the competition at the A-10 Championships, winning the men’s 8k and leading the men’s team to a program-best fourth place finish.
“Unbelievable,” first-year coach Adam Bray said. “Unbelievable job. It just shows how talented he is. The kid puts in a lot of hard work and you see it out here on the course in how good he is.”
“The team overall did an outstanding job,” Bray added. “Those guys, we were talking all week about if we can score 100 points, I think we can get fourth place – that was what I was projecting just off of years past. Today, those guys went above expectations.”
The Owls ended up with 127 points, six away from earning second place.
“In the grand scheme of things [six points] is very small in cross country,” Bray said. “In my opinion, this is a very good team and the guys have come to life here, especially in the past couple of weeks. That’s very exciting to see. I think we probably surprised a few people in the conference in the way that they ran.”
Mahoney first ran the A-10 Championships in 2008, when his 40th place finish contributed to the team earning a 10th-place finish, the highest at that point in program history. Saturday’s race is among the best moments of his career, he said.
“It ranks up there,” Mahoney said. “I came back for a fifth year. With cross country, there’s so many guys that are so competitive. To come out here and actually put it together and go out my last year at A-10’s and come out with a win, it ranks high. It’s big.”
A mile into the race, Mahoney was in ninth. About 10 minutes in, he was hovering around fifth place. A few moments later, Mahoney was spotted in second. The man in front of him was La Salle senior Alfredo Santana, the defending champion of last year’s race.
The event, hosted by Temple, was held in the same location it was seven years ago when the university made its return to cross country at the Belmont Plateau. Mahoney wasn’t the only runner that day familiar with the course. Santana and the rest of the La Salle team use Belmont as their training course as well.
“I thought it was going to be more of a push earlier,” Mahoney said. “Everyone kind of stayed relaxed and the Philly guys, me and [Santana], we kind of both know the course. It’s just trying to stay as relaxed as you can when running the course, use up hills and the down hills and the flats and stay relaxed.”
The race was neck-and-neck before the runners disappeared into the woods from the eyes of those watching. As the runners’ reemerged from the trees as they rounded the final turn, the home crowd – parents, students, the women’s team, among others – erupted as Mahoney was revealed with an insurmountable lead against Santana. Mahoney’s final race time was 25 minutes, 1.5 seconds.
“At the top of the hill I stayed on top of him, and dashed to the side to make my move,” Mahoney said. “I have a little longer stride than he has so it played into my advantage to make that move at that spot with the downhill. So I used the downhill and just got excited and used it through to finish. It was awesome to cap my last A-10 Conference with a win so it meant a real lot.”
While Mahoney’s final season is quickly winding down, there are still several notable events left before his departure later this fall. NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals are on Nov. 9 at Penn State, while the NCAA Championships will be held Nov. 19 at Louisville. There is still plenty more he’d like to accomplish, Mahoney said.
“I want to go on to regionals and try to do the same thing,” Mahoney said. “I want to try to stay relaxed and stay up with the pack and if I can, go for the win. My ultimate goal is to make it to nationals and just give it my best shot there. It will be my last race in a Temple singlet and my last college race so I’m kind of enjoying this now. It’s real nice. It’s awesome.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.