Saturday, November 30, 2002
Written by Paul Sweeney
BRIGHAM AT HIS BEST FOR 11th AT CROSS COUNTRY NATIONALS
Tufts sophomore Nate Brigham (Penacook, NH/Merrimack Valley) warmed up for the NCAA Division III Cross Country National Championship race on November 23 in his Drew Bledsoe #11 football jersey. He wasn't intending to predict his place in the upcoming race, but much to his surprise, that's exactly how it turned out.
In a field of 215 - the nation's top Division III teams and runners - Brigham placed 11th by finishing eight kilometers in 25 minutes, 30.6 seconds on the campus course at Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. As a result, he earned All-American honors and posted the best finish by a Tufts runner at the race since Rod Hemingway was sixth at Nationals in 1997.
"I went out there thinking I could maybe make the top 50," said Brigham, realistically summing up his pre-race expectations. "I felt if I had a really good day I could make between 30 and 35 and just slip under All-American status (top 35). I didn't know I was 11th until about two hours after the race because it was such a crazy finish."
After passing four other racers during a mad dash to the finish line, he was mobbed by six Tufts teammates who were on hand. Four had driven overnight from Medford to Minnesota to be there. Soon after the race the Tufts contingent was on their cell phones letting their other teammates back in Medford know about Brigham's amazing race.
At the NCAA regionals on November 16, Head Coach Connie Putnam's Tufts team had narrowly missed qualifying for its fifth straight Nationals appearance. Brigham qualified individually to keep alive the program's streak of eight straight years with either team or individual representation at the NCAA race. Brigham had a chance to talk to Hemingway before he left for the race to gain some perspective on what it's like to run at Nationals without your teammates. He was told by current teammates that he had an opportunity to do something special that the program could use as momentum heading into next season.
It was helpful that the New England Small College Athletic Conference was a presence at the front of the pack. Trinity College's Ryan Bak won the race with a 25:01.1 time. Bates College's Justin Easter was third (25:20.9). Ten seconds behind that was Brigham, Trinity's Jim Emord (11th in 25:30.0) and Williams' Karl Remsen (13th in 25:31.5). Brigham had run multiple races with these guys this fall, and that familiarity was a factor.
Mostly, it seems like a case of Brigham putting his mind to something and getting it done.
"I got into position early," he said. "I got into the top 35, which is where I wanted to go out early on. Then I made a decision to stay with pack around two miles and move my way up from there.
"Then I was at the back of the front pack," he continued. "I ran with Trinity's Jim Emord late, over the last mile and a half. We didn't say anything during the actual race, but we both knew we didn't want to fight each other and we just wanted to hold on to our places and move up as best we could.
"With about 1,000 meters to go I was hanging out at 14th or 15th, then you go out on a loop where there were no spectators because it's a wildlife reservation. At that point I was thinking, "Hold on, don't get passed by 20 people and blow it." But then into the final stretch I went crazy got another four guys."
Brigham enjoyed his special achievement when he returned to the Tufts campus and then over the Thanksgiving holiday. Next week he will turn his focus to the indoor track season. At 6'4", 150 pounds, he actually prefers flat racing tracks to the hills of a cross country course. Though you'd never know it based on his performance in Minnesota on November 23.