The Machine — Stanford XC 2003

All seven of The Machine's runners tightly packedand leading the entire field at the 2003 NCAA XC Championships.

All seven of The Machine's runners tightly packedand leading the entire field at the 2003 NCAA XC Championships.

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 

Jonathan Marcus