Zero. Nada. Zip. It was a number that the Colorado SchoolÂ of Mines wanted to change. In 126 years, how many nationalÂ championships had Mines athletic teams won? None.
Enter cross country coach Chris Siemers, a former all-Â American runner at Western State. Armed with a trio of topÂ flight runners and a team that believed in his methods, SiemersÂ turned out to be the guiding force in establishing a milestone inÂ Mines history.
On November 21, 2015, in Joplin, Missouri, Mines erasedÂ the zero. Outstanding efforts by senior Marty Andrie, juniorÂ Nathanael Williams, and junior Dan Mahoney, plus guttyÂ performances by freshmanÂ Grant Colligan and junior SethÂ Topper, allowed Mines to beatÂ three-time defending NCAAÂ Division II champ AdamsÂ State and collect their first bigÂ trophy.
The road to the title was notÂ a simple one. Earlier in theÂ season, the team put pressureÂ on itself to win the RockyÂ Mountain Athletic ConferenceÂ (RMAC) and NCAA RegionalÂ meetsâ€”coming up short bothÂ times. â€œAdams State crushedÂ us at the regionals,â€ AndrieÂ said. â€œIt was not our best race.â€
But that defeat may have fueled the teamâ€™s preparations forÂ nationals, Siemers said. Plus, not everything went badly forÂ Mines in those meets. Mahoney won the individual RMAC title,Â a first for Mines, and Williams took third.Â Andrie, Williams, and Mahoney finished 18th, 21st, and 22nd,Â respectively, at nationals to earn all-America status. The key toÂ winning turned out to be the finishes of Colligan and Topper,Â the fourth and fifth runners in the Mines lineup. With the topÂ five finishers contributing to the team score, Colligan tookÂ an impressive 33rd to become an all-American, and TopperÂ grabbed 47th to clinch the victory.
Such improvement led to a dream fulfilled. â€œAt the start ofÂ the season, our goal was to do something thatâ€™s never beenÂ done before,â€ said Siemers, a Chicago area native in his fourthÂ season as Minesâ€™ head coach. And his runners followed aÂ regimen to success.
Siemers comes from a cross country family, and his brotherÂ Art coaches the team at Colorado State. An accomplishedÂ collegiate runner, Siemers has won the Denver Marathon,Â and his assistant coach Andrew Eppersonâ€”a two-time all-American for the Orediggersâ€”qualified for the 2016 OlympicÂ marathon trials in Los Angeles.Â â€œIf you do exactly what ChrisÂ [Siemers] says, youâ€™ll be good,â€Â said Mahoney. â€œHeâ€™s invested inÂ making you the best you can be.Â Sometimes itâ€™s surprising howÂ much you improve.â€
Mines had the advantage ofÂ coming close to a national titleÂ previously. In 2012, it took secondÂ behind RMAC rival AdamsÂ State, and then placed fifth andÂ fourth the next two years.
In Joplin, Missouri, a crowdÂ of Mines supporters showed upÂ waving their school flags, andÂ more than 100 fans gathered at the Clear Creek Athletics ComplexÂ to greet the national champs on their return to campus.Â Given that they run all of their meets while theyâ€™re on the road,Â the cross country team doesnâ€™t always get the fan backing thatÂ the higher-profile sports teams receive, but that day was one toÂ cherish.
Andrie, the only senior, sees more success in the programâ€™sÂ future. â€œHow cool would it be to have started a dynasty?â€