Rochester Men's Cross Country National Champions Celebrate 25th Anniversary

Rochester Men's Cross Country National Champions Celebrate 25th Anniversary

THE 1991 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS: (Kneeling, l-r): Don Dalrymple, Tim Voloshen, Marc Gage, Jeff Wilcox, Andy Silverstone, Dave Sullo, Craig McMurtry, Dan Goldstein. (Standing, l-r): Timothy Hale (head coach), Willie Houghton, Bryan Goettsch, Travis Brancely, Christian Reed, Jim Dunlop, Joe Mello (captain), Dave Boutillier, Anthony Kerr, Chris Rizzo, Ray Lawson, Edward O'Gorman (assistant coach). Not Pictured: Michael Accardi.

From University of Rochester Athletics

The University's motto Meliora, signifying 'Ever Better' is the perfect way to describe the 1991 National Championship men's cross country team. Both of those concepts will blend this weekend when the team returns to campus to celebrate the 25th anniversary of winning the NCAA Division III National Championship. The Yellowjackets will be introduced at halftime of the football game vs. St. Lawrence.

Rochester dominated throughout the season. The team was ranked number one in pre-season polls and held that spot for much of the year until a seventh-place finish at the Division I-laden Notre Dame Invitational. UR slipped to third, but returned to the number one ranking by winning the University Athletic Association title with a near-perfect race: the five UR scorers finished among the top seven runners. Jim Dunlop '92 won the title by less than a second over teammate Joe Mello '92. Christian Reed '92 was fifth, Anthony Kerr '93 sixth, and Christopher Rizzo '93 seventh.

A week later, they won the New York State title with five men in the top 11: Mello second, Dunlop third, Dave Boutillier '93 sixth, Reed ninth, and Kerr 11th. It was almost a replay two weeks later at the NCAA Regional Championship. Rochester finished first out of 23 schools. Mello and Dunlop ran 2-3 (finishing four-tenths of a second apart). Boutillier was sixth, Reed 10th, and Raymond Lawson 11th

That was the strength of the team. "If you look at the season results for 1991, you will see that there were a couple of meets where one of our top five did not run," said head coach Timothy Hale. Both times, runners were battling simple colds. "Because we had such confidence in the team, we decided to rest those guys and put someone else in."

In the UAA meet, they called on freshman Jeffrey Wilcox. He finished the course in 26:18 and finished 11th overall in a field of 78. The national championship meet was run in excessively warm conditions in Newport News, VA. The five scorers were Dunlop (second overall, just two seconds behind the individual champion), Mello (10th), Boutillier (19th), Kerr (63rd), and Lawson (92nd). When you eliminate the individuals who ran, Mello was ninth, Boutillier 17th, Kerr 44th, and Lawson 67th. Rochester finished with 139 points, eight ahead of North Central College (Ill.) and 11 more than Wisconsin-Oshkosh (150).  In early October at the Notre Dame meet, UW-Oshkosh finished sixth, 43 points ahead of Rochester.

This collection of men was built to dominate – over long courses, over a stretch of years. Dominate is the perfect description.  "We had believed for several years that we could have a National Championship team and our performances at Nationals had proven we could contend," Hale said. "We had a very talented and experienced team that was very motivated to achieve."

The athletes credit Hale for playing a key role in the success. "Coach was always consistent and disciplined," Mello said. "We prepared like we did every week, every season, every year."

Rochester entered the title race ranked number one. That's pressure itself. Plus a championship was within reach. "Coach was clearly pretty nervous, but he kept the same routine we used all year long," Reed recalled, "and simply said 'If we do the things we've been doing all season, we'll come out on top'."

They didn't need a rah-rah guy or a cheerleader. "I think he was just trying to keep our routine as normal as possible," Dunlop said. "This team didn't need any extra motivation or elevator speech and he knew that."

There was an inner strength to this group. They were mentally tough. "These men were talented, well-conditioned, had lots of National experience, and were extremely confident in their abilities," Hale said. "They knew they were good and that they could run with just about anyone in the country." 

Dunlop and Mello won All-America honors in back to back seasons (90-91). Reed was honored in 1990, Boutillier in 1991.

"There is one concept that makes a racer run faster," Kerr says. "That is the concept of not failing the team. After our amazing finish the year before (UR was fourth in 1990), we suddenly became enraptured in the idea that we could win."

Toughness also comes from the physical grind. "I remember some tough workouts coach designed such as mile repeats on rolling hills in the park and runs in Mt. Hope Cemetery that made us fit but also required a mental toughness to persevere," says Lawson. 

Those workouts did more than just build the fitness level. Mello has spent time coaching track and applies it to his professional life as well. "You practice, practice, practice what you do on race day so that race day is nothing new."

This was a glorious time for Rochester athletics. The women's soccer team won the 1986 and 1987 NCAA Division III Championship and reached the championship match in 1991. The men's basketball team won the 1990 NCAA Division III Championship, reached the quarterfinals in 1991, and the championship game in 1992. 

In 1992, men's cross country almost repeated. Four runners graduated, but the Yellowjackets finished second to North Central College in another close NCAA title event. "I think this points to the depth and consistency," Hale says. "It was another great performance and within the next four years, we had two other close shots at the title. It was a great era for UR Cross Country."