Cornell men’s cross country senior captain Dominic DeLuca wrapped up his career at the pinnacle of collegiate competition — the NCAA cross country championships, held this past weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. DeLuca battled injury to take 216th in a crowded field of 255, which featured some of the most talented collegiate distance runners from across the country.
“Representing Cornell on the national scale was a huge honor,” DeLuca said. “I was able to show that Cornell belonged in the same race as some of the nation’s best teams.”
Assistant coach Mike Henderson, new to the Red this year, has guided DeLuca, or “Dom” as he calls him, and the men’s cross country team from start to finish this season. Though only working with DeLuca for a single year, he has been able to see his progress from the first race months ago to competing on the national stages.
“It means a great deal to all of us affiliated with the program to have athletes like Dom competing on the national stage,” Henderson said. “We certainly feel like we have some of the best representatives of student-athletes in the country and are thrilled when they get to the national stage and showcase their abilities.”
DeLuca’s preparation has been consistent all season, building up to an outstanding finish at the NCAA Northeast Regionals, where he led his team to finish 10th amongst a competitive field and in unfavorable racing conditions. This finish earned DeLuca his individual bid to compete in Louisville.
Come race day in Kentucky, course conditions were less than favorable, with strong winds blowing upwards of 15 m.p.h. throughout the race. However, the atmosphere and excitement of the meet are what characterized the competition, complete with a strong turnout of fans for a highly anticipated day of racing.
DeLuca had a strong start to the race, crossing the 2k mark just out of reach of the top 50. The race soon thereafter slipped from his grasp as chronic back pain set in at the most inopportune time.
“Unfortunately, Dom was not able to have his best race or the type of day we were looking for at the meet,” Henderson said. “Around the 3 or 4k mark in the 10k race he suffered a back injury that severely impacted his ability to breathe and compete at the level he is accustomed to running at.”
However, DeLuca never gave in, and fought through the remainder of the race, holding off as many competitors as he could. Justyn Knight, practically a neighbor from Syracuse, took the individual championship, and Northern Arizona claimed the team title.
“Personally it did not go as I wanted it to,” DeLuca said. “I have been dealing with a back issue that flared up in the middle of the race. Even though the race was not a true indicator of my overall fitness, I still felt like I represented Cornell well by persevering through and finishing.”
DeLuca’s career with collegiate cross country may have come to a close, but he still has a chance to bounce back for track season. His leadership and dedication to the team “has been instrumental in keeping the team focused,” Henderson said.
“Even though the meet wasn’t what he hoped, he had a great season and deserves the praise and recognition that comes with being an NCAA National qualifier, Henderson said. “He’s hoping he gets another chance on the big stage this spring.”
The indoor track season for Cornell is just around the corner, and the first meet on Dec. 2 will feature a handful of the runners in their own Barton Hall. However, most important to Henderson is that the group take time to rest and rebuild for competition in the New Year and that DeLuca be ready to go come championship season for track.