The Machine — Stanford XC 2003
I recently asked Mike Smith, Northern Arizona Head Coach, if he thought his 2017 Men's Cross Country team deserved a spot in the pantheon of all-time great NCAA XC squads. My inquiry came a few weeks after NAU won its second consecutive NCAA Men's Cross Country title.
By this point he had some time to reflect, the celebration and excitement surrounding the back-to-back championships had quieted (somewhat). It wasn't the first time he had been asked that question. His crew placed three men in the top-10 at Louisville. Such was an unheard of feat in the ultra-competitive world of collegiate cross country. I was intrigued to hear his reply.
Mike is an apt student of the sport. He answered in a heartbeat. "These guys are an amazing group, they had a fantastic run this year, but the standard is still The Machine." He meant the 2003 Stanford XC national title team.
Stanford has a rich history of collegiate distance running competitiveness. Currently under the able direction of Coach Miltenburg, the program continues to add triumphs to this day — both the Cardinal Men & Women earned trophies this past fall at NCAAs, each placing 4th.
But to me, "The Machine" only means the 2003 Cardinal Men's XC team. They tallied a scant 24 points at the NCAA Championships. All five scorers finished in the Top-12. And what about their sixth runner, Don Sage? He finished 13th overall.
When individuals are omitted from the scoring, they went 2-3-4-5-10-(11)-(26). If you include the Cardinal's 6th and 7th runners in their team score, the total is 61 points.
Runner-up team Wisconsin (lead by underclassmen Simon Bairu, Chris Solinsky, and coached by Jerry Schumacher) nocthed 174 points. The Machine's Top-7 beat everyone else's best five by over 100 points that day. Absolutely mind-boggling.
A few years ago, I asked Ian Dobson, 5th overall and 3rd scorer in 2003, what made The Machine so special.
He said, "Our mentality was simple: it didn't matter who did what, so long as it got done."
I took "it" to mean not only winning the national title but making NCAA history.
Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm