Coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history, the Harvard men’s and women’s cross country teams, led by ninth-year Crimson coach Jason Saretsky, enter a new season with the hopes of improving even further despite the loss of some key runners.
Last season proved to be a breakout year for the team, as the men qualified to the NCAA National Championships for the first time in 35 years. The women, meanwhile, had a strong season including a third-place finish at Hep, where the squad just missed the cut for Nationals. Both teams also spent time throughout the season ranked in the top-30 USTFCCCA poll.
The team took a hit with the losses of important athletes such as Morgan Kelley ’14 on the women’s side as well as James Leakos ’14 and the NCAA Nationals third place finisher in Maksim Korolev ’14 on the men’s side.
Even without some of last year’s top runners, captain Will Geiken believes that many on the team have the ability to step up this upcoming season to claim the spots left behind by their former teammates.
“We have a number of runners who weren’t in the top seven last year who will probably be contributors,” Geiken said. “Having a number of guys like that, [we’re] feeling good, we’re excited with what we can do.”
The burden of replacing such talent appears to be aided by the return of several experienced members on both sides of the team.
For the men, Geiken and junior teammate Tom Purcell, who finished third and second respectively for the Crimson at NCAAs, lead a group of athletes who looks to finish races with a smaller time difference within the top five Harvard runners in order to have a better team finish.
“We’re trying to move the entire top five scoring group up in the field,” Geiken said. “To counter the loss of Maks and James upfront, we want runners numbers three, four and five to be near the front of the race with our one and two.”
The female side follows a similar trend, with top runner and senior Viviana Hanley returning to lead the team alongside fellow classmates and captains Alaina Alvarez and Jennifer Guidera.
The Harvard women look to make it back to Nationals after missing out the past season by just one spot. Saretsky believes that both teams can build on what was a great season and achieve their expectations of reaching Nationals.
“Both teams are in very similar spots,” Saretsky said. “We return a number of outstanding student-athletes, we got some great new additions with the freshman class, and we’re fired up and excited for the season to get underway.”
The Crimson also looks to benefit from the addition of a strong freshman class, as both the women and men added strong, fast runners who look to contribute right away.
New runners must make the often difficult transition from high school, where the 5-kilometer race is the distance of choice in cross country, to college, where the men run the 5K and 10K races, while the women run the 6K.
Like all new collegiate athletes, the freshmen make the change while also adjusting to college life. Though the switch isn’t always instantaneous and new athletes can take some time before being contributors to the team via low times and finishes, the runners still look to make the most of the new experience.
“We might have a few more female student athletes contributing in our top seven sooner than the men,” Saretsky said. “But both groups are really talented, they’ve got great attitudes, great work ethic [and] really fit into the culture that we’ve been working hard to cultivate here.”
With a NCAA Championship berth and an Ivy League title in play, the Crimson will kick off its season against Ancient Eight rivals Princeton and Yale on September 12th.
—Staff writer Julio Fierro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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