XC: Nationball comp highlights cross-country meet with Westmont, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps

Westmont Cross Country renewed a storied rivalry with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Saturday at Chase Palm Park – and they ran a cross country race as well.

“(Claremont head coach) John Goldhammer and I started having our teams meet 20 years ago just for a dual meet to start the season,” explained Westmont head coach Russell Smelley. “We made it low key and played games together. Then one day we looked at his literature and he was calling it the Nationball Classic. It became that the race was something to do for training and the Nationball game was the event. The pizza was the peace offering afterward.”

The nationball contest is played in three rounds. First the women verses women, then men verses men. Finally, everybody is all in. This year, Westmont won the women’s round before the Claremont men evened the score at one point each.

“I had made a big deal with our guys about not finger pointing during nationball if they felt that someone had cheated,” said Smelley. “One of the fun things that happened today was that after our guys lost to their guys, their team was whooping it up and so our guys ran in with them and whooped it up too.”

In the final round, Claremont, whose squad was twice the size of Westmont’s, prevailed to claim bragging rights as nationball champions.

“After the games, while we were waiting for pizza on the beach, people grouped up and talked with other people from the other team,” said Smelley.

Preceding the main event was a 4.2 mile cross country race in which men and women competed at the same time.

“The course is along the beach on a bike path, up the hill at Shoreline Park for 600 meters to the second bench past the parking lot, back down the hill and then going back the way you came,” described Smelley. “They are dodging cars and dogs and tourists along the way. It is an old style athletic event about giving your best effort and the comradery that comes from having shared the best effort with your opponent.”

Claremont was the clear winner of the nearly incidental cross country competition with the Stags (men) winning 15-50 and the Athenas (women) posting an 18-44 victory.

“John and I have a long time friendship,” said Smelley. “The outcome of the race is not as important to us as our athletes and the benefit they receive. They have all been stressed from the first week of school and are all nervous about their first performance. So you give them a distance that doesn’t mean anything and let them figure it out. There will be plenty of things that seem to matter more later on.”