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You've heard of the season that almost was? Well, for the Harvard crosscountry team, this was the season that almost wasn't.
It started out tough. Coming off last year's spectacular IC4A win (which earned them a berth in the NCAA finals held in Denton, Texas), the harriers began this season battling three major negative factors.
The first was the loss through graduation of Jeff Campbell, last year's captain and top runner. His IC4A time of 24:28 was the best Harvard course time ever run in New York's Van Cortlandt Park. The second was the injury that kept Tim Fitzsimmons, an all-Ivy sophomore last year, out of the running for the entire season, and the third was the decision of talented freshman Rock Moulton to take the year off.
But it ended even tougher. After placing first in last year's IC4As, Harvard came in 22nd this year. Last year's dual meet record was an even-handed 4-4; this year's a dismal 2-7.
Instead of a win-loss box score, however, the 1977 Crimson cross-country story should read like an injury chart, tallying Stein Rafto's never-ceasing knee troubles, and pointing out that Thad McNulty lost his hamstring, Noel Scid-more came down with pneumonia and Mark Meyer sprained his ankle.
And you can curse the bad breaks and the rotten luck all you want, but the competition doesn't get any easier. Each year there are heavies like Princeton and UMass to contend with, Providence has recruited another boatload of Irish hordes, and perennial top guns such as Kurt Alitz of Army and the Flora brothers combine to make life exciting, if also often miserable, for the Crimson.
"With competition like we face every year, we can't get away with even a few things going wrong," team captain Rafto admits. "Unfortunately things were often a lot worse."
Coach Bill McCurdy, disconsolate after still one more player injury in the Greater Boston Championships, put the team's predicament more colorfully. "It's another example of the workings of Rafto's law, which is about the same as Murphy's Law except it says if anything can go wrong, it will go worse."
Bad breaks lead to frustration, which can easily turn into pessimism and gloom. Rafto, Mark Meyer and others insist that this was not the case, however. "We just never gave up-we kept trying to put it together. At the Princeton meet (the last dual meet of the season) we put in nine varisty runners and we all ran our hardest."
Mark Meyer, captain-elect for next season, agrees: The Big Three meet with Princeton and Yale was the Last Hurrah. Even Tim Fitzsimmons, out since last fall with severe tendonitis of the knees, ran, both as a personal test of strength and as a psychological boost for the rest of the team. "We ran to beat Princeton, ran very close, and in the process beat Yale," Meyer says.
But even then, Lady Luck reared her ugly head. Several Crimson runners, uncertain of the course, ran more than they were supposed to. The score should have been much closer than the 17-40 official tally.
Next season, nearly every important runner on the team except Rafto will return, with the addition of Moulton, Fitzsimmons, and freshman John Murphy, yet another injured party, who recovered in time to run to a smoking 4:07.9 finish in Thursday night's intrasquad heats.
Next year the Crimson's luck should change. It certainly looks as if the team is ready to start making their own.
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