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When sophomore Courtney Smith ran at Tom Sawyer Park at the University of Louisville at the NCAA National Cross Country Championships this Saturday, she carried the weight of the entire Harvard cross country program on her shoulders.
The Westchester, Pa. native finished 60th of 254 runners as the Crimson’s only runner to qualify for the NCAA Championships after placing fifth at the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships just eight days earlier.
“It was an honor to be there,” Smith said. “It was my first college national meet, and I’ve never been to a meet at such a high level before. It was almost inspirational to see so many great runners all working toward a common goal of being a national champion.”
The sophomore was the first female Harvard runner to qualify for the NCAA Championships since the 2012 season, when the women’s team qualified for the meet for the first time since 1983.
“I ended up falling short of my goal,” Smith said. “I was hoping to be an All-American, of which I was about eight seconds short. I was a little disappointed in that end result, but I was happy with the process goal of having a successful season.”
The performance on Saturday capped off a stellar second-year campaign for Smith, who finished 16th at a highly competitive Wisconsin Invitational and third at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, earning All-Ivy First Team honors in the process, the only Crimson women’s runner to earn a spot on the All-Ivy First or Second team.
While the outdoor season might have concluded for Smith and her teammates, the sophomore is already looking ahead to next season.
“Next year, I’d like to make another run at qualifying for the NCAA Championships and getting another shot at being an All-American,” the sophomore said. “I’ll apply a lot of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained this year to next season.”
On the other side, the Harvard men’s cross country team competed at the IC4A Cross Country Championships at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, N.Y. this past Saturday.
The Crimson finished third of six teams competing at the event, finishing behind Columbia and Saint Joseph’s University who placed first and second, respectively.
Co-captain Chris Allen paced the men’s squad, finishing second overall just behind junior Jack Boyle of Columbia.
“I was pretty motivated,” Allen said. “It was my last cross country race in a Harvard uniform, and you only get to put on that singlet so many times, so it was great to go out and have a great run like that for my last race.”
Sophomore Ben Huffman and junior Brandon Price crossed the finish line in 13th and 14th places, respectively, with Price just a half a second slower than his Harvard teammate.
Rounding out the men’s finishers were four underclassmen, including freshman Austin Gilbert and fellow classmate Kieran Tuntivate, who took 29th and 34th, respectively. They were followed by sophomore Gabe Montague and freshman Robert Hope, who claimed 41st and 42nd.
“[As a team], we were satisfied with how we performed,” Allen said. “Especially considering we only had eight days between regionals and the meet on Saturday and we had a tough go at the Ivy League Championships, I thought we bounced back well as a team.”
The end-of-season meet capped off a season that fell short of preseason expectations for the Crimson, whose men’s and women’s team finished seventh of eight teams at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and qualified only one runner, Smith, for the NCAA Championships.
“I’m excited to improve on this past season,” Smith said. “Next year, we’ll do a lot of the same things we did this year, but learning from our mistakes this year. We’re going to train harder and smarter. We will bring back a lot of runners next year, so it will be interesting to see how that manifests next year.”
—Staff writer Michael P. Dybala can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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