Only the top three runners would earn Olympic berths, and Chris Lukezic knew it. As the Georgetown junior rounded the final turn of the 1500-meter race at the U.S. Olympic Trials last July, his chances looked bleak. In eighth place with fewer than 100 meters to go, Lukezic’s Olympic dreams seemed dashed.
But fueled by many months of preparation and sweat, he surged into seventh place, then into sixth, and past yet another panting runner until he shot across the finish line in fourth place, inches away from his Olympic dream. Lukezic would not be headed to Athens, but his final surge of speed had propelled him past a handful of the best runners in the nation.
His performance at the trials brought Lukezic into the company of a long line of great Hoya athletes who have represented the Georgetown track and field program. For decades, the program has stood atop national rankings as one of the most dominant in the nation, affirming the strength of Georgetown’s athletic programs.
“Georgetown has a deep history and tradition, and it’s one of the big reasons why I came here,” Lukezic said. “There’s great prestige to know that you’re part of that history.”
Multiple coaches have steered the program over the years, but the Georgetown track and field team has always enjoyed a level of excellence that running consistently across these different generations.
From 1974-1983, Joseph Lang, who coached Olympic middle-distance and steeplechase runner John Gregorek (CAS ’82), headed the program. He became Georgetown’s Athletic Director in 1995 and retired last July.
After Lang’s coaching tenure, Frank Gagliano directed the program in one of its many glory eras where such athletes as Steve Holman (CAS ’92), an Olympic miler, emerged. With Gagliano’s guidance, Georgetown won dozens of championships and produced a number of Olympians.
Under Gagliano, present Director and Head Coach Ron Helmer began his days at the Hilltop. Since then he has witnessed and coached many of Georgetown’s best athletes athletes who have helped define and maintain the success of the illustrious program.
When he came to Georgetown in 1983, Helmer became part of a tradition already deeply rooted in the blend of academic and athletic success. The men’s program had already been established as a premier program in the country in many aspects of track and field, ranging from throws and jumps to distance events.
But the women’s program was not at the same level. Over the next decade, Gagliano, assisted by Helmer, elevated the women’s status, and in 1988, they climbed to the top 10 at the NCAA Cross-Country meet, an impressive feat.
For the next 16 years the women would match this performance by placing in the top 10 every year at the national meet, a streak which had never been accomplished before and has yet to be duplicated.
Atop their national success, Gagliano and his crew of coaches, including Helmer, led the Hoyas to dozens of Big East cross country and track championships. With a focus on the national level of competition, both the men and women’s programs entered into a true golden age. Georgetown legends like Gregorek, Holman and John Trautmann (CAS ’90) brought home countless medals and records. On the women’s side, Steffanie Smith (CAS ’93) and Miesha Marzell (COL ’97) etched their names into the Georgetown record books.
The men’s cross country team continued their streak of success as Coach Patrick Henner assumed the reins in 1998. He has led the Hoyas to a number of Big East championship performances. In last year’s championship win, the team scored a meet record-low 29 points. This season, the men’s team is ranked sixth in the MONDO men’s NCAA Division I Cross Country Poll.
“The thing that most attracted me to this school was seeing the direction that Coach Henner was taking the program,” Lukezic said. “He is reviving the cross country team back up to a national level.”
Georgetown incorporates a blend of academic and athletic dominance in the nation that attracts many of the country’s best runners to wear blue and grey. This legacy inspires these Hoyas to perform at a high level season after season.
“There’s such a rich tradition here at Georgetown, and it creates a great sense of pride when you wear the Georgetown uniform and know that you’re not just representing yourself but also past and present Georgetown athletes,” fifth year senior Colleen Kelly said.
Today’s teams of Hoya runners uphold the high standard set by Georgetown legends, even though by NCAA standards, their facilities are meager. During Georgetown’s peak of running success, the Hoyas had their own track comparable to those of other elite programs. Today they have none.
The track team used to call Kehoe Track home three years ago, but due to maintenance and utility problems, it was permanently removed.
“The coaches and athletes have done an incredible job competing at the highest level in the nation, and they don’t let the fact that they don’t have a track at the moment affect them,” Interim Athletic Director Adam Brick said. “They are a great representation of Georgetown.”
Despite the fact that they have been without a track facility for the past three years, the Hoyas’ performances indicate that the lack of a world-class facility has not dented their ability to achieve national success. While some programs would suffer, Georgetown enjoys a strong tradition of competing with the best, a virtue which has helped maintain their national status.
“More than anything it’s an inconvenience, but the type of athletes that come to Georgetown are willing to work and not let it affect them,” track Captain Chris Bonner, a junior, said.
Coach Helmer and Assistant Coach Scott McLeod ensure the Hoyas can compete despite a lack of elite facilities.
“The fact that we don’t have a facility doesn’t hurt our training or performance at all,” cLeod said. “[But] having a practice area on or adjacent to campus would help solve a lot of technical problems.”
The cross-country team, coached by Pat Henner, is much less affected by the lack of on-campus facilities simply because of the sport’s nature.
“In a way, many of the runners are spurred on and motivated by this fact,” Henner said “They all have a common goal of proving themselves to the country, and they do.”
As the coaches work together to further enhance the level of the track and field program, the athletes themselves prove the effectiveness of both the coaching and the program with their performance.
The present Georgetown team boasts a roster made up of many All-Americans, including a slew of athletes, like Bonner and junior Stanley Langrenade, who are expected to make an impact on the national level.
The men’s cross country team returns from their seventh place performance at the national meet last year. Headed by Lukezic and senior Rod Koborsi, this year’s squad is aiming for a higher finish.
“We have a good number of athletes that I believe can get to the level where they’re running with the best in the nation,” Helmer said. “Seniors Nicole Lee and Rod Koborsi have been looking really good this year, and I believe that they can possibly score at the national meet come the end of the year.”
Over the past few years, one of Georgetown’s strongest areas has been the middle-distance events. They have won NCAA medals and USA national medals, as well as prestigious Penn Relay Championship medals.
Last year, the team of Lukezic and alumni Jesse O’Connell (COL ’04), Ali Najjar (COL ’04) and Ezra Richards (NHS ’04) brought home the Penn Relays Championship while running the seventh fastest time (7:13.75) in collegiate history.
“I believe we have a better team (this year) than last year, and such runners as Fleet Hower, Chris Esselborn and Steven einelt are improving in a way where they can make an impact on the national level as well,” Henner said.
On the women’s side, Lee has emerged as the leader on a young squad dotted with a handful of talented freshman as well as emerging upperclassmen.
Lee, who is the 2004 Penn Relays 10,000-meter champion, made an impact on the national level in cross country this year. In every cross country race this year, she has been the first Hoya finisher.
Many of the mid-distance runners and sprinters who are coming off successful seasons last year have used this cross country season as a pre-season training. They eagerly await the indoor season as a handful of them could possibly enter the national scene, especially on a relay. Juniors Sabine Knothe and Erin Henry have made impressive cross country performances, while sophomores Nana Hanson-Hall, a captain, and Jayne Penn posted consistent and fast times their freshman year.
The Georgetown track and field program has proved itself to be one of the university’s most consistently dominant programs. The coaching staff and athletes have worked together to maintain the nationally-recognized program. Their hard work, coupled with a passion for success, has driven this team to the top of the national rankings.
“At the end of the day, we’re proud of the tradition Georgetown track has had and all that we’ve accomplished,” Helmer said. “We’re a team that’s committed to excellence and our program, however successful, is always improving.”
Although still young, Lukezic has proven to the coaches, the nation and to himself that he can compete with the best. Alongside a myriad of Georgetown greats, Lukezic has and will continue to affirm the strength of the Hoya track program.
“One of the greatest aspects of Georgetown’s track and field program is the fact that a lot of Georgetown athletes have great success post-collegiatly. . [Rich] Kenah (MSB ’92) and Holman medaled at the World Championships. They are two of the most successful American runners, and they came from Georgetown.” Lukezic said.
No one knows what Lukezick’s future will hold, but he knows he’s a part of a proud Georgetown tradition of excellence. He’s ready to show the world what a Hoya can do.