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The NCAA Pre-Nationals separate the big dogs from the rest of the field in cross country.
For a Harvard team that is looking to see where it stands, this weekend was a huge race. After competing on Saturday, the Crimson runners felt that they belonged with the best Ivy League teams despite a poor showing.
The Crimson took a rested and select group of runners to Northern Iowa, where the men finished 32nd in a field of 35 teams and the women 26th out of 33. Both teams were plagued with physical problems ranging from sprained ankles to cramps.
“It was just not our day,” junior captain Reed Bienvenu said. “A terrible race.”
On the men’s side, Colorado won the meet with 109 points, led by the effort of top finisher Dathan Ritzenhein (23:17.7).
For the Crimson, junior Alasdair McLean-Foreman once again led the team in the eight-kilometer Gold Race by finishing in 25:47.4, good enough for 169th place. Toward the end of the race, McLean-Foreman developed a cramp in his side and struggled through the last part of the race.
“[Alasdair] is definitely one of the most naturally talented runners in the league,” Bienvenu said. “He just didn’t have a good race this weekend.”
Similarly, Bienvenu (26:20.1) ran with a painful cramp as he finished a disappointing 209th.
The top Ivy League finisher Saturday was Yale’s Lucas Meyer (24:10), who finished in 25th place, over a minute and a half ahead of McLean-Foreman. However, recent history between the two rivals has been in Harvard’s favor.
Two years ago, McLean-Foreman placed 23rd in the Heptagonals, finishing six seconds and five places ahead of Meyer.
Earlier this year, McLean-Foreman beat Meyer by a slim three seconds during the Harvard-Yale race.
But the true bragging rights for this individual rivalry will be decided as the two top runners face off in two weeks at Heptagonals.
On Oct. 31, McLean-Foreman will race against his main rivals Meyer and Jarrod Shoemaker of Dartmouth, who finished just behind Meyer this weekend, for the title of Ivy League champion.
“He’s definitely capable of doing that,” junior Sameer Narang said.
At Pre-Nationals, the only other runner to finish in the top two hundred was freshman Sean Barrett (25:53.2), earning him 179th place.
“We didn’t really come together as a team,” freshman Kevin Lyons said.
If Harvard hopes to beat some of its Ivy League rivals at Heptagonals, other runners will have to step up.
“I expect that I’ll be able to beat some of those guys at Heps,” Bienvenu said referring to the second runners for rival Ivy League teams. “I’m shooting for top eight, an all-Ivy performance. It will be good for the team.”
The Harvard women’s cross country team, on the other hand, had slightly more success. Like the men, the Crimson rested its best runners last week in preparation for this meet, but the Harvard women were plagued by injuries as well.
The Crimson totaled 625 points for the meet, good enough for a 26th.
But the team left Iowa feeling it could have placed better.
The main victims to injuries were senior leaders Beverly Whelan and captain Mairead O’Callaghan, who struggled through the six-kilometer race. O’Callaghan was sick, while Whelan reaggravated an ankle sprain and could not finish.
Junior Kimberly Smith (22:52.6), too, has been training through pain these last few weeks.
Sophomore Laura Maludzinski has taken up the lead while the others are injured. She led the team by placing 69th with a time of 21:53.1.
Considering the size of the field and the quality of the competitors, including perennial powerhouses Stanford and Colorado, Maludzinski’s effort was quite impressive.
Stanford runners Alicia Craig and Sara Bei finished first and second, respectively, leading their team to victory at Pre-Nationals.
Following Maludzinski’s lead, five other Crimson runners finished within the top two hundred. O’Callaghan led this bunch by placing 117th with a time of 22:28.4.
Now the runners must put this meet behind them in order to focus on Heptagonals, arguably the climax of the cross country season.
And it may come down to a matter of how their bodies are able to heal from the injuries.
“As far as Heps goals, that depends on how hard I am able to train over the next couple of weeks,” Smith said.
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