The Keene State College men’s cross country program has had its share of success over the years, but no two teams measured the combined accomplishments of the 1999 and 2000 squads that no only claimed Little East crowns and New England regional titles, but also raced to second place finishers at the NCAA Division III championships.
The 1999 KSC team included two returning All-Americans, Scott Jensen’00 and Wilson Perez ‘03, sophomore Godfrey Berger and a talented freshmen class comprised of Matt St. Germaine, Paul Visser ’03, Paul Phelps’ 04 and Mark Miller ‘04. The Owls showed early signs of promise by capturing the Middlebury and KSC Invitationals and second straight LEC title. Led by Jensen and Perez, who placed third and fourth respectively, the Owls convincing won their first ever New England Regional 59-102 over Tufts University. It was on to Wisconsin-Oshkosh for the NCAA championships.
“It was good going in as the underdog, “said KSC Coach Peter Thomas. “We knew we were good, but the nation didn’t know that.”
Running on the fast Lake Breeze Golf Club course, the Owls ran their best race of the season. “They blistered the course,” said Thomas. “We gave it our best shot to win.”
Finishing second behind North Central (Ill.) College (84-100), KSC returned home with three All-Americans (Jensen, Perez, and St. Germaine). Jensen held the lead for most of the race before faltering and finishing fifth. “My teammates called me the four-mile champion,” said a laughing Jensen.
Thomas also had special praise for Visser, when ended up being the Owls fourth man. “He was the real key at the regionals and nationals,” he said.
“In addition to the races, I think the memories the guys will take away are the daily workouts,” said Miller. “We were so competitive so fierce. That’s what made us such a great team.”
Following their success, Keene State went into the 2000 season with bull-eyes on their backs. With the loss of Jensen to graduation, KSC got an unexpected gift when transfer Joe Dunham decided to join the team. “Adding Joe was the piece of the puzzle that was missing,” said Perez. “His addition made us a contender for the championship.”
Unfazed by high expectations, the Owls captured Dartmouth and KSC Invitationals and a third straight LEC title. Saving their best for last, the Owls placed a program best second behind powerhouse Providence College at the New England Championships. Ready to make a run at the NCAA Championship, KSC took its first step with its second straight regional title. However, Keene State saw its national championship hopes fall just short with its second place finish (65-87 to Clavin (Mich.) College) at the NCAAs held at Spokane, Wash.
Perez, who finished fourth, and Dunham, St. Germaine, and Miller, earned All-American honors.
“The effort we gave that day would’ve won nine out of 10 races,” Thomas said. “We were just unlucky that Clavin had its perfect day.”
Thomas ranks his 1999 and 2000 team up with the elite he has coached during his long tenure at Keene State. “They certainly were the best Division III teams,” he said. “If you ran those teams, they would finish first or second every year. Unfortunately, we got second both years. Other years they would’ve come in first. “