Nearly four years ago, Ben Taber ’17 turned in one of the top career-ending performances ever by a cross country runner at Gettysburg College, recording three consecutive career-best times in championship meets and closing an outstanding tenure in orange and blue at the NCAA Division III Championship.
After two solid years on the cross country team, Taber broke out as a junior and earned both All-Centennial Conference and All-Mideast Region accolades, becoming the program’s first selection to both teams in 10 and six years, respectively.
The upward trend continued in an outstanding 2016 campaign for the native of Durham, Conn. He was the team’s top performer in every race he ran, punctuated with wins at the Little Three Meet, Paul Short Invitational, and Gettysburg Invitational during the regular season.
At the 2016 CC Championship hosted by Haverford College, Taber set a new personal record (PR) by 12 seconds at 25:20 and earned all-conference recognition with a seventh-place effort. Two weeks later, he fulfilled his dream of reaching the national stage by clocking another PR at 25:08 and finishing fourth at the Mideast Regional. The first Gettysburg men’s runner to qualify for nationals in 18 years, Taber would be flying alongside Head Coach Aubrey Shenk to the NCAA Division III Championship at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, Ky.
“The weird part about it was it was just me and Coach Shenk,” recalled Taber. “Normally you’ve got your team, my buddies around me, so it was just weird because I was by myself. It’s tricky mentally to be out there by yourself. I almost forgot to put my shoes on and I almost missed the start.”
Taber was joined by 277 of the most talented runners in Division III, all vying for a top-40 finish and coveted All-America status.
“I knew what I had to do,” said Taber. “I knew it was going to be hard. It’s a huge field of really excellent runners. It was a really hard funnel with 255 runners slamming into each other 200 yards down the course. I got out where I wanted to be. I was around 80th at the mile and then I moved up from there, which was my strategy. I executed what I wanted to do for the first half of the race.”
Running in 30-degree weather against windy conditions on a relatively flat course, Taber held his own against top competitors from across the country and maintained a quick and frenetic pace against the conditions. With about two miles left, however, he realized the tank was running low and that final kick he would need to propel him past runners he’d beaten at the regional meet a week prior wasn’t going to be there.
“You have some moments as a runner where you realize it’s just not my day,” he recalled. “I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be and just didn’t have that final gear. It was a little disappointing because everyone’s goal is to be an All-American. It’s tough in cross country because you can so quantitatively count it. In soccer or football, you put up a good statistical season, but then it’s kind of out of your hands. A couple guys I beat at regionals were just ahead of me and ended up being All-Americans.”
Taber placed 46th out of 278 runners, marking the highest finish by a Gettysburg cross country runner since Bill Gray ’96 finished 33rd in 1994. Once again, he pulled through with a career-best time of 25:04.
Taber carried momentum into track season and set school records in the 3,000 (8:38.46) and 5,000 (15:07.31) during the indoor campaign. He gained all-conference status in the 5K indoors and as a member of the 4×800-meter relay team during the outdoor season. In track and field, he finished among the top 10 in seven indoor and outdoor events.
A political science major, Taber was named Academic All-District First Team and received the Charles W. Beachem Athletic Award, which goes to a male senior on the basis of character, scholarship, and athletic achievement.
Taber was responsible for many great moments on the cross country course and track, but his trip to nationals was the crowning achievement in an outstanding career.
“Overall it was a great race,” said Taber. “I PR’d and I can’t really complain about it. I went out and executed what I wanted to do.”
Original Release – Nov. 19, 2016
Taber Places 46th at NCAA D3 Championships
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Senior Ben Taber (Durham, Conn./Coginchaug Regional) closed out his tremendous cross country career with a solid performance at the NCAA Division III Championships on Saturday, placing 46th among 278 runners at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer” State Park.
In his 35th and final collegiate cross country race, Taber clocked a personal-record (PR) of 25:04 for the 8,000-meter course. He was in 64th place 2,000 meters into the race and continued to move up the rest of the way on a primarily flat course. He chipped four seconds from his PR set just one week ago at the NCAA Division III Mideast Regional, where he qualified for the national meet with a fourth-place finish. It was the third meet in a row that Taber notched a PR.
Taber was the fifth finisher from the Mideast region, finishing behind only Ernie Pitone of Widener University (second, 24:09), Henry Woods of Haverford College (22nd, 24:45), Jaryd Flank of Muhlenberg College (26th, 24:47), and Schaffer Ochstein of Johns Hopkins University (39th, 24:59).
The first Gettysburg men’s cross country national qualifier since 1998, he turned in the best finish by a men’s or women’s cross country runner at the national meet since Bill Gray ’96 came in 33rd in 1994.
North Central College won the team title with 60 points while Ian LaMere of Wisconsin-Platteville defending his individual title, crossing in 23:40 and winning by 29 seconds.
Taber’s performance capped a superb senior season in which he won three races and earned both All-Centennial Conference and All-Mideast Region honors for the second year in a row.
This story was originally posted on the Gettysburg College Website.