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Cross Country Competes Against Nation's Best

By Stephen J. Gleason, Contributing Writer

Led by the performances of junior Tom Purnell and senior Whitney Thronburg, the Harvard men’s and women’s cross country teams hung tough with some of the nation’s top teams in Friday’s Coast to Coast Battle in Beantown.

The race featured various teams from around the nation, from Ivy League rivals to national running powerhouses, giving the Crimson a great gauge for future races at both the league and national level.

“It’s always good to go up against some of the nation’s best,” head coach Jason Saretsky said. “I always try to emphasize that if you learn from these experiences, it’s going to make you stronger and better prepared for those future challenges, and I feel like we were able to do that across the board.”

The Harvard men finished sixth out of nineteen teams and the women took eighth out of twenty-one.

Purnell led the Crimson by keeping pace with the top pack for most of the race and finished the 8k course in 13th place with a time of 24:45, just 25 seconds behind first place Eric Jenkins, an All-American from Oregon.

The race served as a rebound performance for the junior, who posted his best time of the season with a 25 second improvement after struggling two weeks ago at Yale.

“We talked after the race [H-Y-P] and it was very clear that that was not the level he was at, and we were very determined to fix some of the things that were off,” Saretsky said. “This was a great bounce back performance by him, and I think that it left him feeling there’s more still to come.”

Senior co-captain Will Geiken led the men with a 30th place overall finish while clocking in third for Harvard with a time of 25:01.

“My personal mindset was that I wanted to improve upon my race from H-Y-P,” said Geiken. “I wanted to see how I could match up with the other guys in the race.”

On the women’s side, the Crimson were led by Thornburg, who broke the 18-minute mark in a 5k race for the first time in her career with a thirty-ninth place finish and a time of 17:56.

“Whitney has been a great success story for us and the product of just sheer determination and a real love for the sport,” Saretsky said. “She’s developed and progressed throughout her four-year career, and it’s exciting to see all that hard work paying dividends. I’m really looking forward to seeing her finish off her senior year on a high note.”

The meet also served to demonstrate the young talent the team has, as the freshmen continued to provide a strong showing despite being exposed to some of the top runners in the sport.

While both races attracted top talent—the men’s race featured three top 25 teams (#3 Oregon, #8 Syracuse, and #16 Providence) and the women’s race featured five (#1 Michigan, #5 Georgetown, #14 Syracuse, #17 Boston College, and #25 Dartmouth)—that did not seem to intimidate the young Crimson athletes, as each side featured two freshman in the top seven.

On the men’s side, Louis Colson and Ben Huffman finished fourth and fifth, a second apart from each other at 25:31 and 25:32, respectively, for Harvard also good for sixtieth and sixty-first overall.

For the women, Courtney Smith, at 18:04, and Elianna Shwayder, at 18:26, finished third and seventh, respectively, for the Crimson and forty-ninth and eighty-eighth overall. The times were personal bests for Huffman and Shwayder.

“Our freshmen have been stellar for us in both races. On the men’s side, it’s an even bigger adjustment getting used to the 8K,” Saretsky said. “We are really excited to see the contributions that those freshmen are making and are looking forward to when they get more used to college, more used to different training…. There’s a really bright future for them.”

With valuable experience gained from this meet, the Harvard runners next head out to compete in the Paul Short Invitational, hosted by Lehigh University, on October 4th.

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