Gorloks cross country senior Riley Flynn could sense it. The second he saw the conditions for his final race at the NCAA Championships in Rock Island, Ill., he knew his team would be in for something special.
“Conditions were perfect, and I really couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Flynn said. “It was about high 30s, and a completely flat course. Because it was so flat, we knew it’d be one of our better races.”
Flynn and the Gorloks ran the fastest collective race in Gorloks’ history on Nov. 11. In the process, Flynn’s individual time of 25:46 became the second-fastest in school history.
“I knew that there was a Greenville kid behind me,” Flynn said. “Everyone’s yelling that he’s catching up. I just run as hard as I can and gave everything that I had to finish.”
Flynn, who led his team in all but one of his 22 races, ironically finished out his Gorlok cross country career at the venue where he’d struggled a season ago.
“When I knew that I got that, and then to see all my teammates coming in, that was the big thing for me,” Flynn said. “The time was great. But seeing my team come in and get the All- Conference First Team was the big goal.”
The inspiration for Flynn’s storied cross country career has roots dating back to his freshman year in high school. At the time, his desire to run was influenced by his brother, then a senior in high school, whom Flynn credits his competitive nature to.
“I really, really wanted to beat him,” Flynn said. “I didn’t do it, and so my motivation in later years was to be better than him.”
As the leader of the men’s cross country team this year, Flynn had a more team-centered approach.
“When I first started college, it was run for the team,” Flynn said. “We had a really good team my freshman year. I really lost sight of that, I think. My sophomore and junior year, I focused more on myself and hitting my personal goals than I did the team. I think that’s why the team did so well this year, because it was completely team focused.”
As a unit, Flynn was joined by both teammate and roommate, Brandon Brown with a time of 26:21, the third-best in team history. It was followed by third place finisher Dontrell Carpenter.
Flynn ended his career with 3,385 wins, second only to Jason Hickson (2011-2014), and finds himself in the history books with frequency.
With Flynn, Brown and Carpenter being seniors, the Gorloks will be led by newer faces in the coming years. Head cross country coach Dan Graber said he understands how important this group was.
“That group is irreplaceable because they elevated the program and gave it stability,” Graber said. “Especially our four-year seniors, who came into the program when it was very possible for it to go downhill fast. The loyalty and dedication of that group allowed us to progress into a serious program.”
Flynn now shifts his goals towards both track season, as well as coaching in a similar Division III atmosphere at some point in the future. He said the goal is to take what he learned from this past cross country season, and transfer that into the upcoming track season.
“I’ve looked back, and have been racing so much, to be able to look back and see where I can improve, just see it as an improvement for later,” Flynn said. “Let’s take everything I learned, and put it into track this year. Every race, you learn a little bit more about yourself.”
Flynn owns a record in every facet of the record book. He has three All-Conference distinctions, multiple top finishes in the 8K, 6K, and 5K races, a single-season win percentage leaving him only behind Ethan Jeffries (2013) and Jason Hickman (2014), and a top-three finish in career win percentage.
“Even going into conference. I thought about it like, ‘this is my last cross country meet,’ but it didn’t really have any effect on me,” Flynn said. “When I crossed the finish line, and realized, that was really, just really emotional. That experience was completely new.”