Michael Scarlett ’18 at the NCAAs

Michael Scarlett ’18 remembers exactly what he told his father after he visited the Vassar campus for the first time. Scarlett, a track and cross country star at Cambridge (MA) Rindge and Latin High School, had just spent about 24 hours with members of the Vassar cross country team during a recruiting trip. “When I got home, I said to my dad, ‘I hope I get into Vassar,’” he recalls. “It was everything I’d hoped for in terms of the culture of the team—people who liked to have fun but who were serious about competing and who were team-oriented.”

Michael Scarlett ’18 capped his collegiate cross country career by competing in the NCAA Division III Championships.Photo: Stockton Photo Inc.

This fall—five years later—Scarlett capped his collegiate cross country career by competing in the NCAA Division III Championships at Principia College in Elsah, IL. He was the first Vassar runner since 2006 to earn a spot in the NCAA championship race, finishing 159th in a field of 279. And while qualifying for the race may have been an individual achievement, Vassar’s team-oriented culture was plainly evident: Four of Scarlett’s teammates—Jesse Schatz ’18, William Dwyer ’20, Peter Ferretter ’21 and Reed Dolan ’21—took the 16-hour road trip, surprising Scarlett by showing up an hour before the race. They helped him warm up and cheered him on along the eight-kilometer (4.97-mile) route. “It was amazing to see my teammates there, to have that support during the race,” Scarlett says. “The course was set up for spectators, so everywhere I went, I’d see Vassar people as I ran.”

Scarlett’s teammates took a 16-hour road trip to Principia College in Elsah, IL, to cheer him on.Photo: Ryan Coleman, D3Photography

Head Coach James McCowan 98, an All-American cross country runner himself, says he wasn’t at all surprised that Scarlett was competing in the national championships or that some of his teammates had shown up to support him. Scarlett and other members of his recruiting class have advanced Vassar’s cross country program significantly since they joined the team, McCowan says. “They all bought into the vision we had for the program, not just from an individual perspective but as teammates who were interested in the collective outcome.”

The team’s progress was easily measured. In Scarlett’s first year, Vassar had one of its poorest showings in the NCAA Atlantic Region race, which determines which runners qualify for the national championships. In 2017, the team finished eighth in a 42-team field, its best showing in history.

“I can’t imagine my Vassar experience without cross country. I’m better off in every way by being a part of that team. We pushed each other every day, and competing in the NCAAs was a gratifying end to the season.”

Scarlett began preparing for his final season when he and Schatz landed summer jobs in Washington, DC, and decided to train together. Scarlett, an Urban Studies and Political Science major, was an intern in the office of Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts. “We put in a serious volume of work in the heat and humidity, running along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal,” he says.

When Scarlett returned to campus later that summer, he and Coach McCowan began to seriously talk about competing in the NCAA championship. The coach says Scarlett continued to work hard throughout the season, and he was consistently the team’s top finisher, and it was satisfying to see all that work pay off in representing the school [at the NCAAs],” the coach says. “It marked a culture shift for our program.”

Photo: Ryan Coleman, D3Photography

Scarlett aimed to stay near the front of the pack early in race, and he was only a few seconds behind a pace to qualify for All-American (the top 40 finishers) midway through the course. But gale-force winds and some tight turns pushed him farther back in the second half of the race. While he was disappointed with his finish, Scarlett says it still meant a lot to be there representing Vassar.

He is looking forward to capping his Vassar athletics career with the track team, but he says his time on the cross country team was something special. “I can’t imagine my Vassar experience without cross country,” he says. “I’m better off in every way by being a part of that team. We pushed each other every day, and competing in the NCAAs was a gratifying end to the season.”