All season, the Harvard women’s cross country team has stressed the importance of peaking at the right time. And on Friday, with a trip to the NCAA Championships on the line, the Crimson women delivered.
Following its best Ivy League finish in three years, Harvard continued its success, finishing in fourth place out of 37 teams at the Northeast NCAA Regionals. Though the team narrowly missed out on earning one of the two automatic qualifying bids to the NCAA Championships next weekend, it was informed on Friday night that it was given an at-large bid to attend the meet for its first time since 1983.
“We were all sitting together holding hands in anticipation,” junior Emily Reese said. “As soon as they announced that we were going [to the NCAA Championships], everyone jumped up, screaming. We ran two victory laps around the indoor track…. It was excitement like I can’t even describe.”
At regionals, the Harvard women employed a strategy that has allowed the team to steadily improve all season long. The Crimson’s pack of five scoring runners were separated by only 38 seconds at the meet, paced by Reese who finished in 19th place with a time of 20:27.
“[We] really put everything out there,” Reese said. “I, the coaches, and the rest of the women couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”
Sophomore Viviana Hanley was hot on Reese’s heels, finishing in 20th place, covering the 6k course in 20:36. The race was an improvement for the sophomore, who was Harvard’s fourth runner at the Heptagonal Championships.
Junior Morgan Kelly and senior Samantha Silva were also scorers for the Crimson, earning 27th and 36th places, respectively. Both runners have been Harvard’s top finisher earlier this season, with Silva’s strongest showing of the year coming at Heps. Sophomore Alaina Alvarez rounded out the Crimson’s scoring with a 48th-place finish.
Going into the race, Harvard runners said their strategy was to identify runners from teams that had a chance of qualifying for nationals and finish in front of them. According to Reese, Boston College and Providence were among these squads.
But after five runners had finished, there was nothing to separate Harvard from BC in the team standings. The Crimson found itself tied for fourth place with its local rival, with each team tallying 150 points. In order to break the tie, race officials went to dual-meet scoring, comparing Harvard’s first runner with BC’s first, then both teams’ second runner, and so on until the fifth finisher from each team.
Though Reese and Hanley were bested by the Eagles’ first two runners, Kelly, Silva, and Alvarez all finished ahead of their respective opponents, giving the Crimson the tiebreak. BC also received an at-large bid to the national championship meet next weekend.
“[BC’s] one-two punch is one of the best in the region, without a doubt,” Harvard coach Jason Saretsky said. “But I really feel like it was the depth of our women’s team that is what helped us prevail…. We eked it out, but at the end of the day, we’ll be at the national championships, and that’s what people will remember.”
The Harvard women will be joined by a pair of runners from the men’s squad, who picked up individual bids to the national championship meet in Louisville, Ky. Juniors Maksim Korolev and James Leakos proved that they could be frontrunners beyond the Ivy League, finishing in 2nd and 5th places, respectively.
“I’ve felt for a long time that [Korolev and Leakos] were capable of this level of performance,” Saretsky said. “They were real cool and calm under the pressure and did an outstanding job throughout the race of not panicking and…allowing the race to develop to finish as high as they did.”
Facing a 10k course for the first time this season, Korolev ran a blistering time of 30:16, which equates to 4:52 per mile for 6.2 miles.
Leakos was not far behind his classmate, crossing the finish line in 30:27, also averaging faster than five minutes per mile. The duo’s top-five finishes came in a field of 239 runners from 34 schools.
Freshmen Dan Milechman and Tom Purnell, along with senior Jakob Lindaas, rounded out the top five for the Harvard men. As a team, the Crimson tallied 163 points for sixth place, Harvard’s best finish since 2006. Iona took home the men’s team title, and Ancient Eight runner-up Columbia finished in second.
On the women’s side, two of the Northeast region’s perennial powers, Providence and Connecticut, took home the top two team spots, and Cornell—the 2012 Ivy League champions—earned third place.
“[Qualifying for nationals is] the crowning achievement in our sport,” Saretsky said. “It’s tremendous for our program…. It reinforces that Harvard cross country can be among the best in the nation.”
—Staff writer Dominic Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.