In cross country, where each runner’s talent is measured by the ticking of a clock, there are no grey areas: you are either fast, or you are not.
For the members of the Harvard cross country team, 2013 was the year in which they proved just how fast they could go, as both the men’s and women’s squads demonstrated that they could be competitive on the national level.
Co-captain Maksim Korolev led the charge for the men’s team all year, racing in the top spot for a Crimson team that was able to qualify for the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1979.
On a cold and windy day in Terre Haute, Ind., Korolev tore through the muddy 10K course with a time of 29:59.5, capping his Harvard career with a third-place finish at nationals—the best placing in Ivy League history.
Pushing Korolev all season long was fellow co-captain James Leakos, who began the season with two big wins in the Harvard-Yale meet and at the Paul Short invitational.
But Leakos battled injuries for the rest of the season.
While he managed to finish the national meet, Leakos found himself in the bottom half of the field with the rest of the Harvard harriers, unable to reach the same heights as his co-captain and competition.
Despite Leakos’ lackluster finish, Harvard coach Jason Saretsky said he gained a lot by racing at nationals.
“It was a great experience for those guys,” Saretsky said after the race. “Obviously, the conditions were less than ideal, and it’s unlike any other race we have been to...But I thought we gained a lot of experience from it, and there’s a real hunger to get back [to nationals] and cement this program[’s place] as a national-caliber program.”
On the women’s side, the team was unable to match the men’s success, just missing out on making it back to nationals for the second consecutive season.
However, the Crimson did break into the national rankings for the first time since 1995 after finishing third in the Heptagonal Championships and seventh at the Paul Short Invitational, the latter a six-place improvement on the previous year’s result.
Junior Viviana Hanley improved on her strong sophomore season with an exceptionally consistent third-year effort. After starting the season with a one-second victory against Yale to lead the team to a 20-39 win, Hanley established herself as the team’s top female runner.
Senior captain Morgan Kelly also finished the season with several impressive results, providing her Harvard squad with a solid one-two punch in every race.
The teams got a chance to compete against some of the country’s top runners a few weeks later at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational.
Kelly led the way for the women, while Korolev finished second behind eventual NCAA champion Edward Cheserek, firmly placing himself in the national conversation and establishing himself as a strong contender for the NCAA championship. Overall, the men finished just 13th of 35, the first time all season to that point that the Crimson had finished outside the top third at a meet.