Unheralded as recruit, Shaw ’12 readies for crowning moment
By Matt Stanton
Published on Wednesday, November 16, 2011
After men’s cross country runner Ethan Shaw ’12 finishes at the NCAA Cross Country National Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Monday, he will never again lace up his spikes to run for the Big Green. While finales are usually bittersweet affairs, Shaw’s final race will be especially triumphant, a testament to the unexpected success of a self-proclaimed “average” recruit.
When Shaw arrived at Dartmouth in Fall 2008, Shaw — who finished first in the Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championship and in the top-10 NCAA Northeast Region Cross Country Championships — was not a highly-regarded runner.
“In high school, I didn’t train a whole lot, or nearly as much as I should have,” Shaw said. “I knew if I wanted to be a successful college runner, I’d have to work harder.”
Shaw grew up in Falmouth, Maine, a coastal town of approximately 11,000 people just outside of Portland. High school athletes in Maine rarely match the caliber of those in larger states because the state’s small population and brutal winters make it difficult to provide the coaches and resources required to nurture top athletes.
“In high school, I was happy with how I was running,” Shaw said. “I won the state cross country title my junior year, so I figured I was doing things right.”
Despite Shaw’s relatively unspectacular statistics in comparison to other recruits, Dartmouth men’s cross country head coach Barry Harwick said he saw “a lot of room to improve” and “a willingness to work hard” in Shaw.
“When Ethan came into our program, his times weren’t the best,” Harwick said. “But I knew he was a great competitor and would put in the work to improve.”
Harwick was spot-on in his assessment of Shaw, who chose to attend Dartmouth over Georgetown University and other Ivy League institutions because he felt that “Barry believed in me.”
Shaw’s skills quickly took off once he arrived at Dartmouth, drasitcally improving his times each season.
“I wasn’t the biggest recruit and I didn’t have the highest expectations,” Shaw said. “But just being in an environment where I had gone from one the best to being very mediocre and running triple the mileage I ran in high school really benefited me.”
In his freshman season, Shaw finished in a respectable 65th place at the Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championship. By his sophomore season, he had bested his freshman Heps finish by 50 places, finishing 16th in a time of 25:55. At Heps his junior year, Shaw finished third in a blistering time of 24:23.
On Oct. 29, Shaw ascended to the top. Racing in unseasonably wintry conditions, Shaw bested Columbia University senior Kyle Merber by one-hundredth of a second to win Heps in a slush-hindered time of 24:47.
Those who have witnessed Shaw’s collegiate career said they were astounded by his speedy progression up the sport’s ranks.
“The greatest satisfaction I’ve had coaching Ethan has been seeing his improvement,” Harwick said. “He’s worked his way up from a good, but not super great runner, to an Ivy League champion and potential All-American.”
His meteoric rise has also served as an inspiration for less experienced Big Green runners, team member Luke Decker ’15 said.
“Ethan is the team leader every freshman admires,” Decker said. “All of us aspire to have the work ethic and goal-driven mentality that Ethan has.”
Shaw, a psychology major, said he is unsure of his plans after graduating from Dartmouth. At this point in his College career, Shaw is purely focused on preparing for Nationals next week, he said.
“I spent this whole summer training with the goals of winning Heps and being named an All-American at Nationals set in my mind,” Shaw said. “Running well at Nationals would be huge — a big reward for all the hard work I’ve put into running.”