Racing Back to Glory

Oct. 19, 2000

By BRIAN ELSNER

Courtesy The Santa Clara

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - When senior Charlie Brenneman quit the men's cross country team two years ago, many people, including Brenneman, thought that for him, the race was over.

Yet with the West Coast Conference championships approaching and Brenneman a favorite to win, it appears that he simply chose a different path to the finish line.

Brenneman finished in first place last weekend at the Bronco Invitational with a time of 25:55, for his fourth top-three finish of the season in five races. Yet success is not new for the runner from Roseville, Calif.

As a member of the nationally ranked Jesuit High School cross country team, Brenneman and teammate Michael Stember led their team to three straight state championships. Stember went on to Stanford University and competed in the 1500 meter race at the Sydney Olympics. Brenneman chose to run for a struggling Santa Clara program.

"Charlie arrived at Santa Clara with much higher expectations than the program was able to live up to," Head Coach John Maloney said. "He expected greater things in college and his disappointment showed in his lack of commitment and dedication to the team year round."

While an underclassmen, Brenneman chose not to run with the Bronco club team during the offseason. The change in scenery from championships to defeats did not motivate Brenneman to keep running. "I always have enjoyed running," Brenneman said. "But I lost the enjoyment to compete."

With a lack of competition on his own team and his desire fading away, Brenneman chose to quit the cross country team. The Broncos suffered from the loss and so did Brenneman.

Santa Clara struggled in races against top WCC and West Region schools without their top runner. Yet it was the lack of leadership with or without Brenneman that hurt the Broncos the most. Maloney knew he needed a leader, and after a leave of absence, Brenneman provided the leadership needed for Santa Clara to succeed.

"It was a profound change that occurred when Charlie came back after taking his junior year off," Maloney said. "He drove the team as an inspirational leader to reach levels of performance unmatched by any Santa Clara team in the 24-year history of the program."

Brenneman may just lead the Broncos to their goals this fall. With a strong freshman class and other top runners such as juniors Michael Helms, Stephen Moore and Thomas Chapman, Santa Clara is poised to finish in the top half of the West Region. It was the increase in talented teammates and a newfound focus that brought Brenneman back to the sport.

"I wanted to see what I could do if I really worked hard and focused," Brenneman said. "I knew that there were some good runners on the team that could help push me."

Along with his teammates, Brenneman led the Broncos to a first-place team finish at the Bronco Invitational. Santa Clara finished third as a team the previous weekend at the Long Beach Invitational. As the team continues to improve, Brenneman recognizes both the team and his individual goals heading into the WCC championships on October 28th.

"We want to finish in the top half of the West Region as a team," Brenneman said. "As an individual, I want to win the WCC championships and hopefully keep qualifying until the nationals."

With the dominance of the University of Portland over the years, Brenneman and the Broncos have their work cut out for them in the championships. Yet with recent results, Santa Clara has reason to remain confident. Whether or not Brenneman goes on to win the WCC or qualify for nationals, his senior season at Santa Clara will not go forgotten.

"His legacy is profound as he pushed everyone on the team the past two seasons to set unprecedented accomplishments," Maloney said. "His individual performances have stood out to attract attention of quality recruits."

Brenneman plans to continue running after this final season, but he also realizes his career as a Bronco is almost complete. And as the race reaches its conclusion, Brenneman knows that he did not take the conventional route. Luckily for the Broncos, he eventually found the finish line.