The Ivy League’s cross country teams have spent the past few months competing across the nation, but only the Heptagonal Championships this weekend brings them all together. This year, with a number of Crimson runners at their collegiate primes, the field is set for a race to the rankings—and quite possibly, the podium.
“I’m excited, and I’m looking forward to going into the competition,” men’s coach Jason Saretsky said. “It’s always a special, special meet for our team, our student-athletes, and for me as a coach.”
The men’s team, ranked No. 21 in the latest USTFCCCA poll, is sure to produce highlights. Co-captains James Leakos and Maksim Korolev are running for their last times at Heps, and after an outstanding season, expectations for them are high.
Leakos and Korolev finished first and second, respectively, at the Harvard-Yale dual meet earlier in the season, as they did the year before. But unlike the 2012 season, in which Korolev and Leakos were only able to finish 18th and 39th out of hundreds in the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, 2013 saw the pair both finishing in the top ten.
Such strong records of performance from the Harvard co-captains throughout this fall could very well establish them in a race for first place on Saturday. None of the runners finishing ahead of Korolev and Leakos in the Wisconsin Invitational—which also featured No. 10 Columbia and Dartmouth—will be competing in the Championships this Saturday, and as such, the field is open for a dramatic Ivy finish to the duo’s final season.
“We’re just going out, and if the other guys go with us, and are able to go with us, we’re just going to battle it out and have a good time,” Korolev said. “We’re just going to go ‘Super Saiyan’ out there like we always do…[and] hopefully put ourselves in the best position possible.”
While Korolev and Leakos are likely to be in contention for first place individually on Saturday, the men’s squad is expected to have a tougher time. Spreads of up to 65 seconds between the squad’s first five runners have disadvantaged the Crimson against other schools in the past. With the points calculated as the sum of the first five finishing places for a team, it will be crucial to close the persistent gap between Leakos, Korolev, and the rest of the men’s team.
“The tighter one through five is, the more successful we’ll be,” Saretsky said. “That’s how the nature of cross country is.”
Columbia and Ivy perennial-power Princeton are the favorites to battle for the men’s team title, but with a strong performance from its supporting cast, Harvard may be able to pull of the upset.
“There’s no question that Columbia and Princeton are very established teams, especially Princeton, being the defending champion, and what they were able to do last year,” Saretsky said. “I really feel that [Princeton is] probably the favorite for the meet, but it should be fun to see how we can match up.”
The Harvard women, although absent a consistent frontrunner, still aim to produce a strong performance with a solid display of teamwork and cohesion. The leading five, often running in a tight pack, have had past success working off of each other and hope to continue to do so this Saturday.
“Not having that superstar athlete [in comparison to the men’s team] is not as much of a factor,” junior Viviana Hanley said. “I think that the pack running that we’ve done in the past is really going to be a strong play for us.”
Among the expected leaders will be seniors Morgan Kelly and Emily Reese, as well as Hanley and classmate Molly Renfer. Hanley edged Yale’s Liana Epstein by a second in the Harvard-Yale season opener, but with the overall team consistency in mind, many possibilities remain as for Saturday’s performance.
Others who might contribute to the success of the women’s team this weekend include freshman Madeleine Ankhelyi, and junior Jen Guidera. With consistent finishes among the top five, strong performances from these two and the rest of the team will be crucial for the Crimson to catch its higher-ranked Ivy counterparts.
The pre-race favorite on the women’s side is No. 11 Dartmouth, which is led by four-time track and field national champion Abbey D’Agostino. Cornell and Princeton are also among the USTFCCCA-ranked schools from the Ancient Eight.
“Abbey D’Agostino is almost certainly going to win,” Hanley said. “But second place [and] third place are reachable positions for anyone on our team.”