The Harvard men's and women's cross-country teams travelled to Waverly Park in New Canaan, Conn., Saturday to run in the IC4A's.
But the weather didn't cooperate with the runners. Torrential rains and ankle-deep mud prevented Harvard from running. Instead, it waded.
The men's team emerged from the quagmire with an impressive 12th-place showing in the 38-team field. The women's team got lost in the slop, finishing 23rd out of 28 teams.
Harvard's Spencer Punter overcame Mother Nature to lead the Crimson with his 20th-place finish. Punter covered the 6.2-mile course in 31:50, just one minute behind winner Peter Rono--the same Rono who was the 1500 champion in the 1988 Olympics--of Mount Saint Mary's College.
Punter's teammates may not have turned in world-class efforts, but all five of the Crimson's scorers finished in the top 100. Mike Evans was the second Harvard runner to cross the line and 65th overall. Todd Evans stayed with the race's lead pack for the first few miles, before falling back to 73rd. Rob Benjamin and Skardon Baker (who will captain the Crimson next year) finished 88th and 100th, respectively.
"It was complete and utter hell," Benjamin said. "It was a swamp, just total marshlands. "It's too bad the course was so bad, because the race would have been a lot faster. The winner probably would have been under 30 minutes without the rain."
The course was not just hell for Benjamin. The conditions took their toll on many of the pre-race favorites. Although a strong Connecticut team took the overall title, many individuals turned in uncharacteristic performances. Princeton's Bill Burke, who won the Heptagonal Championships two weeks ago, finished a distant 40th. Boston College's Dermot Fitzpatrick, who dominated last month's Greater Boston Championships, brought up the rear, finishing ahead of only 10 runners.
On the women's side, Harvard was hampered by both natural (the mud) and man-made elements (a difficult starting position).
The race opened with a 75-yard sprint before channeling into a narrow opening in the woods. Harvard was stuck on the edge of the starting pack, with 25 of the race's 28 teams to the left of the Crimson. The Harvard runners couldn't gain position over their opponents during the sprint and were near the back of the pack as the race entered the woods.
The Crimson couldn't play catchup. Suzanne Jones finished an impressive 28th, but her teammates were far behind. Amber Duncan was the second Harvard finisher, 97th overall. Alais Griffin finished 108th, while Jenny Schenk and Wendy Campbell rounded out the Harvard scoring, finishing 110th and 121st, respectively.
Another factor working against the Crimson was injuries. Ellen Villa, Holly Moore and Rachel Lewis, who have been consistent scorers for most of the season, were all sidelined.
Jones was another Crimson runner who barely made it out of the medical tent. Since suffering a pelvic stress fracture this summer, Jones has been at rehab more than practice. The senior's performance was the highlight of the Crimson's afternoon, however. Jones finished the 3.1-mile course in 18:19, a minute-and-one-half behind winner Sonia O'Sullivan of team champion Villanova.
"I felt alright," Jones said, "I just wish I could have gotten out a little better, because I think my start hurt me in the end. It was difficult to move up because the footing was so awful. We had to tape our shoes on to make sure we didn't lose them in the puddles."