Spring 2024 /The Value of the Liberal Arts/

Men’s Cross Country

The Pomona-Pitzer men’s cross country team, separated by a pandemic during their freshman year, formed a strong bond in a North Carolina house that propelled them on to win the 2023 NCAA title, defying expectations as underdogs.

Pomona-Pitzer won the NCAA Division III men’s cross country championship in 2019, 2021 and now 2023.

Pomona-Pitzer won the NCAA Division III men’s cross country championship in 2019, 2021 and now 2023.

3 National Titles in 4 Seasons

For the seniors on Pomona-Pitzer’s men’s cross country team, the path to the 2023 NCAA Division III national championship began four years ago—in Oregon, Denver, Northern California and Pennsylvania.

As first-year Sagehens in fall 2020, when most colleges and universities across the country transitioned to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these student-athletes spent their would-be first season scattered, looking for places to race independently.

Most of the runners in the Class of 2024 lived together in Oregon that fall—away from home for the first time—where they learned how to balance schoolwork and training with no coaching staff around to keep them honest.

Weekly Zoom sessions that first semester of college kept the dispersed classmates connected virtually, but it wasn’t until many of them moved into a house in North Carolina the following spring that they truly began to bond.

“That’s when I realized we had a really strong team culture,” says Derek Fearon ’24. “I realized then we had something special.”

After competing sporadically in independent races during their nomadic first year of college, the teammates arrived on campus in fall 2021 as sophomores.

With the one-year NCAA competition hiatus behind them, Fearon, Colin Kirkpatrick ’24 and Lucas Florsheim ’24 had outstanding debut seasons in 2021, and the Sagehens—who’d won the 2019 NCAA Division III championship with a different core—repeated as national titlists.

“A perfect year,” Fearon calls his sophomore season. “Our annus mirabilis.”

“We started thinking, ‘This is easy. That wasn’t so hard,’” Kirkpatrick says. “It wasn’t until the next year we learned humility. We realized, ‘This isn’t as easy as we thought.’”

With several key returning juniors, Pomona-Pitzer was heavily favored to win a third straight Division III championship in 2022. So much so, Fearon recalls, that many on the team started believing the title was theirs to lose instead of theirs to win.

The Sagehens breezed to conference and regional championships with Fearon, Kirkpatrick and Florsheim leading the charge and entered the title race as the consensus top team in the country. But they finished fifth at nationals, off the podium.

“It was really hard to handle the pressure of being the best team,” Fearon says.

A year later­—this time as underdogs with a No. 8 ranking—the Sagehens won the 2023 national title by a single point, the narrowest margin of victory in Division III history. And in a season of surprises, Fearon says, Jack Stein ’26—the team’s fifth and final scoring runner at nationals—captured the points needed to secure the win as Pomona-Pitzer became one of five Division III men’s cross country programs with at least three national championships.