The Harvard men's cross country team was unprepared for yesterday's meet against Columbia, Penn and Cornell. It was so unprepared, in fact, that it placed its first five runners in the top 10 and literally ran away with its first victories of the season.
"We were the only team that hadn't raced yet," Crimson Captain Rob Benjamin said. "We were coming in unprepared."
The final tallies certainly did not reflect any Crimson rustiness. Harvard easily outdistanced host Columbia, 18-41, Cornell, 19-36, and Penn, 21-37.
Junior Spencer Punter paced Harvard, finishing second to Penn's Jarrod Neas with a time of 25:19. Punter and Todd Wells broke up a pack of Penn and Cornell runners at the one-mile mark and set the pace for Harvard's top five finishers, who stayed close behind.
Wells finished fourth, covering the five-mile course in 26:00. Rob Failla, Chris Woodward and Benjamin all crossed the line within 22 seconds of Wells in sixth, seventh and ninth places respectively.
"So many people are running well now," Benjamin said. "We'll be able to space five to six guys up front of the top runners of other teams. Hopefully, that's a good indicator."
The Harvard women (0-1) did not fare as well as their male counter-parts, despite some promising signs from its younger members. Under-class runners took Harvard's first five spots in a frustrating 25-31 loss to Cornell.
Four Cornell runners, including eventual victor Stephanie Best, broke away at the starting line. Harvard sophomore Rachel Lewis stayed with the pack, and eventually finished second, covering the 3.1-mile course in 18:01. Lewis finished just 12 seconds behind Best, a four-time All-America in the 1500-meter race who finished third at Nationals last June. The pack of Cornell runners behind Lewis claimed third, fourth and fifth places, effectively wrapping up the meet.
"[Cornell's] high spots at the front just killed us," Captain Sarah Wilcox said. "If we could have broken up their third and fourth runners, we would have won."
Instead, the Crimson had to take consolation in impressive finishes from freshman Alais Griffin, who finished sixth in 19:23, sophomores Wendy Campbell and Karin Swartz, who finished seventh and eighth, and freshman Mindy Sick.
Both teams resume racing next Friday with a dual meet against Brown and Dartmouth at Bryant College. Dartmouth, a perennial favorite in the Ivy League, is foremost on the minds of the men.
"We're looking to beat Brown convincingly since they beat us twice last year," Benjamin said. "Dartmouth will be very tough. Our top three or four runners have to be strong, but we can do it."