1977 NCAA-II National Champions
1977 NCAA-II National Champions
From the 1993 Blue Book
In the eight years since its last national victory, Eastern had a whole new wave of talent pass through the locker room in Lantz Gym. The early 1970's saw a boom in distance running across the United States. The competitiveness of college cross country seemed to increase exponentially, and Eastern's program hopped on the bandwagon. Every year Eastern sent a powerful team to nationals, and only twice did the Panthers not place in the top five. Distance records in track were falling all over the place, and the talent on harrier teams became deeper and deeper, with the average time spread between the first seven runners shortening with each passing season. The last four years, in particular, Eastern had been very consistent, placing third at nationals each time, with the 1973 and 1974 teams going undefeated in dual meet competition. Standouts such as Ron Lancaster, Rick Livesay and Mike Larson led the way. Lancaster, the first Panther to break 14 minutes for three miles, and Livesay, a four-time steeplechase All-American, had each won All-American honors twice. While Larson, who set eleven individual and relay school records in track during his career, had won All-American honors three times. In 1975 Larson and John Christy qualified for the NCAA division I meet as well.
Eastern now had a big reputation for a school of less than 10,000 students. Tom Woodall had taken over the helm after Pat O'Brien retired in 1974, and was now bringing in bigger names out of the high school contingent. At the beginning of the 1977 season, Woodall knew he had an exceptionally tough and experienced group returning and decided it was time to break Eastern's third-place mold. He had nearly his entire national team returning. Leading the returnees were senior veteran Christy, who now had two All-American finishes under his belt, junior John McInerney who finished four places behind him for a 17th place All-American performance the year before, and sophomore Joe Sheeran, who as a freshman, was ahead of them both in ninth. Also returning from that national team were juniors Casey Reinking, Bill Bandy, and sophomore Reo Rorem.
As much as he wanted a win in November, Woodall didn't put that pressure on his team at the beginning, but focused more on making sure all the athletes helped each other and worked together as a team. He would tell any athlete who wanted to be an All-American that he should help his teammate be one first.
The Panthers tore through the season without mercy, winning nine straight dual meets. They achieved an unprecedented five perfect 15s against Stevens Point, Carthage College, Indiana State, Southeast Missouri and Augustana. The latter two were pure blowouts at home.
The romp against Southeast Missouri was impressive enough, as the Panthers went 1 through 10, finishing on the O'Brien Stadium track in front of the Parents Day crowd of 7,000 at halftime of the football game, with Christy Reinking and Sheeran crossing the line together in first place. This surpassed an already legendary 1-6 finish against Western Illinois before a large crowd at the 1976 Homecoming game. But the Augustana meeting was an even bigger slaughter, with nothing but blue taking the first eleven places. The top seven crossed the line together, all tying for first place. The Panthers also pulled out a 12-point win at the prestigious Notre Dame Invitational, sacking many Big 10 schools in the process. It was the first time a non-Division I school had ever taken the overall title.
But their egos were later softened when they finished second at the state meet to Illinois 42-49. The next week their perfect dual meet record fell in a double dual against Wisconsin and Iowa at Madison, where the Panthers suffered a heartbreaker loss to Wisconsin 27-29. Wisconsin later won the Big 10 championship. Those two loses, however, were due to a lack of concentration by the Panthers' second pack. But there was no monkey business at nationals two weeks later. The Panthers had learned just in time how valuable each runner is in a tough competition, and that they wouldn't win the championship unless they were all in it together. Rorem, who had been the team's top runner early in the season, became injured after the state meet and could no longer compete. His replacement on the national squad was junior Duncan McHugh, who had improved tremendously throughout the season.
The race at Oak Brook, IL, was run over 10,000 meters in the midst of 23-degree temperature, and the Panthers were brilliant every step of the way. Woodall began to cry as he saw the lead pack of 30 make a break at two miles with every one of his Panthers right with them. He later said it was then that he knew they were going to win. By the end, Eastern had destroyed the competition. The team's finishing total of 37 was the second lowest in NCAA II history, and far ahead of second place South Dakota who totaled 151. But it was the most impressive win of all, as the field of 215 runners was twice the size that the 1963 squad from Southern Illinois had to deal with in scoring 33. The Panthers' top six each earned All-American honors, with Sheeran leading the way in second place.
1977 215 runners, top 25 All-American
Joe Sheeran 2nd 30:10 All-American
Casey Reinking 5th 30:30 All-American
John Christy 12th 30:48 All-American
John McInerney 14th 30:50 All-American
Duncan McHugh 21st 30:56 All-American
Bill Bandy 24th 30:57 All-American
Larry Schuldt 52nd 31:42
1977 Eastern Illinois University Cross Country Team Summary
In 1977, the Panthers competed against more than 90 different colleges and universities across the United States (many of whom earned national recognition). Only two teams beat the Panthers. Illinois, who later tied for 2nd in the Big 10, nipped Eastern by 7 points in the State Championships. Big 10 Champs Wisconsin squeaked a 2 point dual victory against the Big Blue of EIU. Wisconsin later finished 6th in NCAA Division I Championships. The Panther upset win in the Notre Dame Invitational was surpassed only by the near-record 37 point NCAA Division II Championship total. Six Panthers (Joe Sheeran, Casey Reinking, John Christy, John McInerney, Duncan McHugh and Bill Bandy) were in the top 24 places thereby becoming the first team in meet history to have six All-Americans in the same race. One week later, Joe Sheeran, runner-up in the Division II race, placed 18th (10th American) in the NCAA Division I Nationals in Spokane, Washington. Fellow coaches voted Tom Woodall as National NCAA Division II Cross Country Coach of the Year for the second time in the past three years.
1977 EASTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY CROSS COUNTRY TEAM NCAA II NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
First Row: Tom Wilson, Bill Reimer, Jeff Wagner, Joe Klein, Paul Weilmeunster, John Dickey, Mike Caddick, Jim Hill, Mike Prizy, Paul Wilhite, CaseyReinking.
Second Row: Coach Tom Woodall, Duncan McHugh, Jase Travis, Bob Feller, Rick Goff, Joe Sheeran, Dave Klemann, Bill Hauke, Pat Hodge, Reo Rorem,Bill Nohmer, Harold Siefert.
Third Row: John McInerney, Ken Englert, Bill Fancher, John Christy, Terry Donahue, Ted Broderick, Mike Hatfield, tom Goodrich, Larry Schuldt, Bill Bandy, Bill James, Asst. Coach Phil Stivers.
Missing: Mike Moore