John Darmody

St. Ambrose’s John Darmody took top honors at the Midwest Collegiate Conference meet Nov. 3 to help the Bees clinch a spot at nationals. It was Darmody’s second league cross country title. (Contributed photo)

John Darmody had no problem taking one for the team.

In fact, it was the standout runner’s idea.

The St. Ambrose fifth-year senior redshirted last season in hopes of making this year’s cross country team one of the best in school history.

The sacrifice worked to perfection, as the Fighting Bees landed a spot in Saturday’s NAIA national cross country meet in Vancouver, Wash., where Darmody will get to compete in front of family and friends. It will be his first trip home since this summer.

“Having my family cheering for me and watching me compete and not just hear how I did in a phone call the next day will be really nice,” said Darmody, who is from Everett, Wash.

The Bees, who enter the national meet unranked in the NAIA coaches’ poll, recorded a pair of second-place finishes at the Midwest Classic and Fighting Bee Invite while placing 12th at the competitive Great Lakes Invitational. The Bees capped their season with a first-place finish at the Midwest Collegiate Conference meet Nov. 3 at Crow Creek Park to seal the team’s first trip to the national cross country meet since 2009.

“I knew that this group of seniors was going to be particularly good, and most of my friends are from this year,” Darmody said. “I wanted to stick around with them and help them reach their goals. The primary focus of the entire season was winning the conference meet and making it back to nationals.”

Led by Darmody’s first-place finish at the conference meet, the Bees edged Mount Mercy by two points to seal their trip.

“We knew we had a really strong team put together,” Darmody said. “We had a lot of seniors who went to nationals their freshman year but missed out the next couple of years, and they really wanted to get back.”

For Darmody, it will be his fourth trip to the NAIA national cross country meet, making him one of three runners in SAU history to complete the feat. Kevin Randle, who also is on this year’s team, and Bruce Eisentrager are the others.

“My primary goal is to run faster at this course than I have before,” said Darmody, whose best finish at the national cross country meet was 130th in 2009. “In the past, the weather has affected the race. It’s rainy and muddy, so I haven’t run my best there. I want to make it into the top 100. I think that’s reachable, maybe top 50, if I can run a smart race.”

The conditions should be familiar to Darmody, who grew up about 3 hours from the Vancouver 8K course, which consists of four 2K loops, and he will be tackling it for the third time.

Darmody, who graduated from O’Dea High School, has been a staple for the St. Ambrose cross country and track programs the past five years, claiming individual conference cross country titles in 2009 and this year. He was part of league-winning teams in cross country in 2008, 2009 and this year, as well.

He’s the only athlete in SAU history to win four all-American awards, all of which came in track. He has 10 conference records for indoor and outdoor track and holds seven school records.

The majority of his success running has come in college.

“I wasn’t particularly good at track and cross country in high school,” Darmody said. “I didn’t really take it serious in high school until it was too late.”

Knowing that he wanted to run in college, Darmody got good vibes from his sister, who discovered St. Ambrose while looking for a particular program the school offered.

“I heard a lot of good things about the school from her and began talking with the coaching staff at Ambrose,” Darmody said.

The transformation from moving far away from home wasn’t the easiest thing for Darmody to overcome.

“I always had my doubts,” Darmody said of traveling halfway across the United States to attend college.”After about a year, it really solidified, and I don’t regret coming out here anymore. I think if I would have went somewhere else, I wouldn’t have been this successful.”

The bonds he’s built on the Davenport campus has eased his pain.

“The friendships I got here were really powerful and really helped me get comfortable,” Darmody said. “I joke with people back in Washington that when I’m in Washington that I’m going home when I’m coming back to Ambrose.”

But on Saturday, Darmody will return to his real home, where he feels confident and comfortable — on the cross country course.

“When you see someone that has had success in races and see what he puts into it in practice, you understand the ends justify the means,” St. Ambrose cross country coach Dan Zeimet said. “He deserves everything he has earned. John Darmody is going to be successful in everything he does.”

That includes Saturday, when Darmody and the Bees look to secure a top-25 team finish. The best an SAU men’s cross country team has finished at the national meet is 24th in 1999.

“I don’t put it past them,” Zeimet said of his crew. “I know they are going to lay it on the line. We are ready to get after it.”