What a difference an offseason can make.
After concluding last fall with a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Heptagonal Championships, the Harvard women’s cross country team kicked off its 2012 campaign in winning fashion on Saturday. The Crimson dominated its competition and earned the team title at the Nassaney Invitational, hosted by Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I.
“I think it was a really great season opener for us,” said senior Briana Jackucewicz, who took first place in the women’s competition. “We had a tight pack up front and ran great times for our first race.”
Led by Jackucewicz, Harvard placed three runners in the top five en route to its comfortable team victory. Jackucewicz covered the five-kilometer race in 18:00.01, five seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
Though Jackucewicz is one of only two seniors on the Crimson’s roster, the Nassaney invite was her first collegiate race. The native of Howell, N.J. has battled injuries that have kept her from competition for the past three seasons.
“Yesterday was a really special race for me,” Jackucewicz said. “I was able to go out and contribute to the team in a big way. The amount of support that I had from the team afterwards was incredible…. Everyone was really happy that I was finally able to do what I came to Harvard to do.”
On Saturday, the Crimson showed that its depth might be its strength this season, as each of its five scoring runners finished in the top 10. Junior Morgan Kelly and senior Samantha Silva took home fourth and fifth place at the invitational, respectively. Kelly was just 10 seconds behind Jackucewicz, running a 5:50 pace to finish in 18:10.4.
Rounding out the scoring positions for Harvard were sophomores Jennifer Guidera and Viviana Hanley. The pair of second-years took home eighth and ninth place, respectively. In addition to placing in the top 10, the Crimson’s scoring runners registered a stellar pack time—the amount of time between a team’s first and fifth finisher—of just 30 seconds.
“One of the big things that we really wanted to stress with the women’s team was running as a pack and working to tighten up our one-through-five spread,” Harvard coach Jason Saretsky said. “I was really pleased to see them go out there and execute the plan.”
The race was held on a grass field at Bryant University. In the 5k women’s race, runners completed three loops on the field and a short stretch through a nearby wooded area.
“[The course] was flat, it was fairly fast, and we were able to go out there and get a good baseline in,” Jackucewicz said. “It was helpful to have an easier race to start off the season.”
On the men’s side, Harvard used the invitational as a way to give its harriers a chance to get some race experience under their belts before the season heats up.
Saretsky indicated that the majority of the men’s team ran only the first five kilometers of the eight-kilometer race, but were tightly packed and led by sophomore Lukas Gemar and freshman Billy Gaudreau.
“[The men’s team] did a really good job of working together over the first two miles and then pushing the last mile,” Saretsky said. “Overall, I was pleased with what they were able to get done, and I think it’s going to set them up for a strong season.”
Junior Erik Kraus was the only member of the Crimson to run the entire eight-kilometer race. Kraus finished in 57th place with a time of 27:54.2.
Though the invitational fielded a handful of schools from the New England area, Brown was the only other Ancient Eight squad in attendance. Harvard handily defeated the Bears in the women’s race, placing all five of its scoring runners ahead of Brown’s first finisher.
“[Winning the meet] was definitely a nice confidence boost,” Jackucewicz said. “This was a small invitational, but having five people within 30 seconds is what’s important. Even if you throw in other schools, we would have still been quite competitive.”
-Staff writer Dominic A. Martinez can be reached at email@example.com.