Fury of a Bobcat Scorned

By Andy Walter, Sports Information Director

The men’s track team worked hard for its big wins in 2012, including the program’s second-ever NESCAC outdoor championship in April and first-ever New England and ECAC indoor titles last winter.

The Bates lead pack at a recent meet included, from left, Tully Hannan ’14 of West Hartford, Conn.; Mike Martin ’14 of Slatersville, R.I.; Andrew Wortham ’13 of Newton, Mass.; and James LePage ’13 of Cumberland, Maine. The quartet copped four of the top five places at the Sept. 15 meet at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine. Photograph by Tom Leonard ’78.

For one element of the team — the distance runners — the grueling work was motivated by a painful snub two years ago that left them shut out of an NCAA championship meet.

So let’s rewind to November 2010.

Bates’ cross-country runners have gathered at the home of head coach Al Fereshetian. Huddled around his computer, they’re waiting for the NCAA to announce the at-large bids to the Division III championship meet. They refresh the browser maybe a hundred times before the crushing news appears: Bates has not received a bid.

To the runners, it looks like the selection committee has unfairly tried to balance the field by inviting more teams from outside the college-rich New England region.

The snub “was one of the worst days of my coaching life,” Fereshetian says.

Partly to prove a point to the NCAA, Fereshetian schedules an out-of-region meet at St. Lawrence University for fall 2011. The move is a masterstroke. The Bobcats, then ranked 22nd in the nation, soundly beat St. Lawrence and SUNY–Geneseo, two teams ranked higher in the polls. The point is made: New England has both quantity and quality, and deserves to be well represented at the NCAAs.

In November, Bates is among five NESCAC teams to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA meet (only three were selected in 2010). All five finish in the top 15, and Fereshetian wins NESCAC Coach of the Year laurels, partly because his barnstorming trip to St. Lawrence elevated the conference’s fortunes.

In a battle of New England’s top-ranked cross-country teams on Sept. 15, Bates defeated Tufts, with Tully Hannan ’14 and Mike Martin ’14 tying for best time of the day. Photograph by Tom Leonard ’78.

Since then, the distance runners who felt the snub in November 2010 have used that frustration to focus their efforts in cross-country and, during the winter and spring, for Fereshetian’s track and field program.

As of late September 2012, the cross-country team is ranked fifth in the nation.

Not that the distance runners really need more reason to push themselves. In fact, the runners “love the pain” of intense competition, both against other teams and among themselves, says 17-year assistant coach Todd Goewey.“It may sound weird, but it’s true. They love getting the most out of each other.”

So while the great thrower David Pless ’13 was the most prominent athlete during the Bobcats’ recent triumphs, the distance runners stepped up with big efforts.

They’ve included Ben Chebot ’12 of Newton, Mass.; Devin Dilts ’12 of Roscoe, Ill.; Noah Graboys ’14 of Glencoe, Ill.; Tully Hannan ’14 of West Hartford, Conn.; James LePage ’13 of Cumberland, Maine; Mike Martin ’14 of Slatersville, R.I.;  John Stansel ’15 of Newburyport, Mass.; Ken Whitney ’13 of West Hartford; and Andrew Wortham ’13 of Newton, Mass.

Fereshetian has no doubt that the snub of the cross-country team in 2010 got everything moving forward. “It was the genesis.”