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he Syracuse runners crouched under a foldable tent as the rain picked up in Louisville. Their star, Justyn Knight, was in the middle of post-race interviews, but the final results were still cloudy. The scoreboard had flip-flopped between Syracuse and Colorado, the two-time defending champions, multiple times. But the final time, it stuck on Syracuse’s name.
For the first time in 64 years, the Syracuse men’s cross country team were NCAA champions. Five years later, this is the story of how five Syracuse cross country runners won the national championship.
Terre Haute, Indiana
Nov. 22, 2014
After placing 10th the year prior, Syracuse finished fifth in the men’s national championship meet, missing the podium by one spot. It was Knight’s freshman year, but the defeat set up a notable offseason for the Orange.
Justyn Knight, Syracuse runner: I will never forget, I finished 143rd. I remember the exact number. I was in 60th halfway to go, (I) start cramping up, and everyone started to pass me like I was moving in slow motion … I personally felt like I let the team down.
Mark Pryor, former Syracuse runner: At about five miles, Justyn just didn’t have anything left. And he looked at (the alumni), and the look on his face was such despair, and he was like, “Man, I’m sorry.”
Joel Hubbard, Syracuse runner: We had our one off day that year at nationals in 2014, we were fifth. If you had asked us back in August, “How would you guys feel if you got fifth?” we wouldn’t have believed you. And here we were in November 2014 leaving Terre Haute disappointed, without a trophy.
Martin Hehir, Syracuse runner and top-finisher: The first top-10 finish was a motivator for the years to come. Cross country was the priority for us. We missed the podium by one place in 2014, which was the set-up for an awesome offseason.
Philo Germano, Syracuse runner: Colin (Bennie) and I stayed in Syracuse all summer and trained everyday. We put in a lot of miles, and remaining on campus allowed for our minds to stay focused and in the zone of getting ready for race day. We had to speak and work it into existence.
Chris Fox, head coach: From the day that race ended, we started working hard to win in 2015. And that’s what we thought about, and we had an outstanding track season that spring. A good track season is usually a good omen that you’re gonna have a really good fall cross country season.
When we came back in (August), I will never forget our first workout, we went faster than we did in the year prior, not even in our best shape. We were so much stronger.
Justyn Knight, former Syracuse runner
Syracuse, New York
Aug. 31, 2015
After a strong offseason, a group of former SU cross country runners show up at practice with a gift. The title-winning season was just beginning.
Jamie Navarro, former Syracuse runner: As we were heading into the season, we wanted to do something for the team to let them know we were supporting them throughout the season. Since nationals were to be in Louisville, we had the idea of getting a Lousivlle Slugger baseball bat engraved with a Syracuse logo. We had local alumni come to present the bat to the team.
Knight: (The alumni) believed in us so much to take time out of their day to come to Syracuse and present us with the Slugger (and) have a talk with us about how much they believed in us. From that point on, it was about doing it not just for ourselves, but the alumni that wore that Orange jersey in the past.
Fox: From Aug. 15 — the day we started practice — until the race in late November, not one person in the top seven missed one day of practice for illness or injury. That is kind of a key to it all. We stayed healthy, and we trained well.
Knight: When we came back in (August), I will never forget our first workout. We went faster than we did in the year prior, not even in our best shape. We were so much stronger.
Chris Lotsbom, assistant editor for Race Results Weekly: Coach Fox had said from the beginning of the season in 2015 that Colorado was the number one all year and the seasoned favorite. From my outside standpoint, Syracuse had the ‘it’ factor in September. They gelled very well.