Dec. 4, 2010

David Pickle, NCAA.com

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A boost from an unexpected source helped Adams State to its third consecutive Division II Men’s Cross Country Championships title Saturday.

Fifth-year senior Brandon Birdsong led a pack of Grizzlie runners across the snow- and mud-covered course at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park.

“He’s been our No. 6 or 7 runner all year long,” coach Damon Martin said. “He’s not a seventh runner any more. I’m damned proud of him.”

Birdsong finished fourth in 31:00.6, followed closely by teammates Ryan McNiff (sixth), Luke Cragg (11th), Craig Huffer (14th) and Keegan Calmes (22nd) for a 57-point total.

Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rival Western State finished second with 102 points while Grand Valley State was third with 135.

“It’s wasn’t going to be a day where the times were really fast,” Martin said. “It was just going to be a day when the team was going to have to be tough and run together up front. So that’s exactly what they did. They were all in probably the 20 to 30 range and moved up to the 10 to 15 range. A few of them moved up from there. But I’m really proud of the way they ran tough up front.”

Martin said the inclement conditions may have marginally benefited teams from Northern and mountain states, but he said the snow and mud made it difficult for everybody.

“Some schools from the South might not like this kind of weather,” he said, “but I don’t know that our kids really like this kind of weather. They would rather run in some nice conditions. But I tell our guys don’t worry about the weather. We’ve got a job to do and we’ll do it regardless of what the weather is.”

One Southern not bothered by the snow and cold was Michael Crouch of Queen’s (North Carolina). Crouch, who had won only a single minor race this season, finished strong to win the individual championship in 30:43.2 over the 10-kilometer course. Meshack Koyiaki of Columbus State, whom Crouch was facing for the fourth time, was second in 30:46.9, followed by Jeff Veiga of Massachusetts-Lowell.

“I’ve been getting outkicked a lot this year and I didn’t want to get outkicked again,” Crouch said, “so I made sure I went just as hard as I could and then made my final move when I saw the finish line and from there I was praying to God that he (Koyiaki) didn’t come back on me again.”

Although the temperature in Louisville was 30 degrees colder than what he left behind in North Carolina, Crouch said he was fond of the conditions.

“Two years ago, I ran at Slippery Rock in Pennsylvania where I got third and that was in snow just like this,” he said. “I ran well there and I ran well today, so I guess I’m good at running in the snow.”