Harvard Hampered By Illness, Injury

No top runners? No problem for the Crimson women. But the men’s squad may have some ground to make up.

With three Harvard cross-country runners preparing for NCAA Nationals today, the rest of the team returned to Van Cortlandt Park, N.Y. on Saturday to compete in the ECAC and IC4A championships.

The women finished ninth in ECAC competition, placing three runners in the top 50, while the men came in 13th among IC4A teams.

“It was a rough day for our team,” junior Ryan Neely said. “We’ve had a rash of illnesses and injuries…[and] we were feeling it. Everyone did what they could.”

Crimson coach Jason Saretsky took a bit more of an optimistic approach to the team’s effort, noting that a bout of H1N1 flu had limited the roster.

“I’m proud of the kids for getting back out there and getting after it,” Saretksy said. “We’ve had a rough go with illness—it’s a tough time of year—but I’m proud of the kids that were able to compete.”

On top of various personnel setbacks, both squads arrived to find yet another surprise at the course in a season filled with strange circumstances. Just two weeks after NCAA Regionals at Franklin Park were reduced to a mudbath, Harvard found the New York terrain to be unrecognizable due to construction. The signature set of hills that make Van Cortlandt Park so challenging was roped off.

“[The race] was really weird because the course was so different,” junior captain Jamie Olson said. “We just did three loops that were pretty flat…it felt like a very long track.”

Still, as the Crimson women have often done this season, the team took the difficulties in stride, with freshman Sammy Silva and Olson leading the way.

Silva—who was named to the U.S. Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches Association All-Region team for the Northeast after placing 11th at NCAA Regionals—crossed the line first for Harvard on Saturday, taking 20th overall in 17:58.5. Olson finished right behind her teammate, posting a 17:59.03 on the 5k course—another good showing in a race that could have been a letdown.

“There weren’t a lot of stakes riding on ECAC’s,” Olson said. “It was really just a race to get out there…enjoy racing, and finish strong.”

The rest of the Crimson continued the season trend of quality effort from young runners, with sophomore Jeanne Mack, and freshmen Stephanie Barnett and Kirsten Jorgensen rounding out the scoring. With so many underclassmen stepping up this fall, Olson voiced encouragement regarding the team’s future.

“Hopefully we’ll be even stronger [next year],” Olson said of a squad that will return all of its scorers in 2010. “We have some more maturity—the sophomores [will have] another year under their belts, and the freshmen will have a little bit more of an edge.”

The men hope to enjoy a similar resurgence, as Harvard will return its top five on this side as well. Neely crossed the line first for the Crimson on Saturday, finishing in 26:32.0 for 48th. Sophomores Ben Entowitz and Michael Hoffman followed in 53rd and 62nd, respectively, while rookies Jakob Lindaas and Sean Poherence completed the effort on the 8k course.

Although Neely was displeased with his personal performance—citing a better showing at Heptagonals on Oct. 30—the junior echoed Olson’s sentiments that the squad would come back strong next fall.

“We’re looking really promising for next year,” Neely said. “Especially after getting the kinks out for the younger guys, who are definitely going to be a huge help to us next year, we’re in a strong place to build off of. We’ve taken big steps towards performing better in the Ivy League and in bigger races.”

—Staff writer Max N. Brondfield can be reached at