In its most important meet of the season, the Harvard cross country team turned in a strong performance against its Ancient Eight rivals. At the Heptagonal Championships, held at Princeton’s West Windsor Fields, the Crimson women finished in a tie with Brown for third place, while the men earned a fifth-place finish.
“Overall, I was very pleased with how our men and women competed,” Harvard coach Jason Saretsky said. “Especially the women, they did a great job of handling the pressure and just having a great, great race.”
Led by a standout showing by senior Samantha Silva, Harvard recorded 93 points on the day, just two behind the second-place Tigers. Silva covered the women’s six-kilometer course in 20:39, which was good for sixth place and first-team All-Ivy honors.
“Sammy did a phenomenal job” Saretsky said. “She got out really well and put herself right with the front group. It got a little tough, but she battled through it.”
Behind Silva for the Crimson were juniors Emily Reese and Morgan Kelly, who just missed breaking the 21-minute mark, crossing the finish line in 21:03 and 21:06, respectively. Sophomore Viviana Hanley was not far behind the duo, coming in 22nd place with a time of 21:09. Harvard’s final scorer was sophomore Alaina Alvarez, who took home 33rd place overall.
With the exception of Reese, Kelly, and Hanley, the outing was unusual for the Crimson. All season long, the women’s squad has earned its success by running together and keeping its pack time low. Despite finishing with a one-minute spread from Silva to Alvarez, the team was able to turn in its best showing at Heps in three years.
“I think we did really well,” Alvarez said. “It’s a step in the right direction, definitely an improvement from last year and the year before.”
Cornell took home the women’s team title, scoring just 31 points after Katie Kellner, Emily Shearer, and Rachel Sorna turned in a one-two-three finish for the Big Red. Yale, which was dominant against the Crimson at their annual dual meet early in the season, finished behind Harvard in fifth place with 108 points.
On the men’s side, the Crimson started off the race in impressive fashion but failed to seal the victory. After a blistering start, Harvard was leading in the team standings at the two-mile mark, with each of its top five runners in top-20 positions.
“I’d much rather see our guys laying it all out there and really going for it than the alternative,” Saretsky said. “I’d rather go for the win than settle for third or fourth or something like that.”
Junior James Leakos was the Crimson’s top finisher, coming in 19th place. Leakos finished 35 seconds behind the leader—Princeton’s Chris Bendtsen—running the men’s eight-kilometer course in 24:16.
Leakos was in the lead pack until late in the race on Saturday. He and Bendtsen were vying for the lead and had created separation from the rest of the field with 600 meters to go when he “hit the wall” and fell back to his eventual place.
“I’m really proud of how [Leakos] competed,” Saretsky said. “He left it all out there.”
Harvard’s other usual frontrunner, junior Maksim Korolev, was not far behind, finishing in 24:24 to take home 22nd place.
Freshmen Tom Purnell and Billy Gaudreau and junior Kurt Ruegg also contributed to the Crimson’s point total of 131.
Purnell and Gaudreau continued their impressive freshman campaigns, as they both broke the 25-minute mark.
“[Purnell and Gaudreau] have done a remarkable job handling the difficult transition to college,” Saretsky said. “They’re only going to continue to get better. Their future is incredibly bright.”
Princeton earned its third consecutive Ivy League title, upsetting No. 10 Columbia in decisive fashion, 26-58. Bendtsen was one of four Tigers runners to finish in the top 10 on Saturday. The team’s first six runners all finished ahead of Leakos.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Princeton,” Saretsky said. “They did a fantastic job on the men’s side. All seven of their guys will be back, so they’ll have a big target on their back next year.”
—Staff writer Dominic Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.