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Down in the Bronx competing for the Ivy League title, both the Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Teams captured second place in the cold fall climate, securing four all-league selections in the process. Both programs had strong races but had different expectations coming into the meet.
For the men, the story thus far has been one of success without a fully healthy squad. Last week at the Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison, two scorers for the Crimson, first-year Colin Baker and Junior Will Battershill made their first appearances of the season. This race, junior Hugo Milner, last year’s third-place finisher at the Ivy League Championship, made his debut for the season. This type of instability in the lineup has characterized this season and made preparation difficult. While this team has talent, many of their best runners have little to no race experience this season. Nonetheless, the men’s squad came into the title contest with high expectations. Finally healthy and working with a full lineup, the Crimson men were going for the title.
In a hotly contested 8k race, the Harvard men placed second, falling just short of the upstart Penn squad and just edging last year’s champion Princeton. The spread between the top three teams was a slim six points, as the Tigers finished with 62 points, the Quakers finished with 68 points, and the Crimson runners finished in the middle with 65 points. With just a couple of shifts in positioning, this race could have gone either way. This finish matched their team performance from last year where they also finished second, the best finish for the team since 1984.
“Our goal was to go for the team win, so we were disappointed that we fell short of that, especially by such a small margin,'' commented senior captain Charlie Davis on the team’s expectations and performance. “That being said, I’m really proud of how we raced as a team. Our guys fought hard for every spot in that race.”
Pacing the Harvard men was rookie Colin Baker who had his best race of his short career, crossing the line in eighth with a time of 24:52.8, good for a sub-five minute pace. The South Charleston native in only his second race wearing the crimson uniform, broke the first-year record performance in the Ivy League Championship previously set by Milner in 2017 when he placed 11th.
For a team that often has been boosted by its strong freshman class, the rest of the scorers for the Crimson were all veteran upperclassmen. Last year’s champion senior Kieran Tuntivate placed 11th in the event, followed immediately by junior Mathew Pereria in 12th. While Kieran had high hopes for a repeat of last year’s performance in this event, he will have plenty of opportunities to run as well as he did last year, culminating in his famed one shoe win in the spring. Pereria has quietly held down the middle scoring position for Havard and has stabilized an otherwise volatile top five that has struggled to get healthy the whole season. The trio of Baker, Tuntivate, and Pereria were All-Ivy second team selections, and will look to build on their performance at NCAA Regionals in two weeks.
To round out the top five, Milner crossed the line in 16th and Battershill crossed the line in 18th, thirteen and six spots below their respective performances from last year. This pair of 2018 All-Ivy League performers has simply not had much race time this year, and will look to get even stronger as Harvard moves deeper into its championship season.
While the men certainly came into the race with the hopes of winning, they fell just short. However, their season is not over. With two weeks of training ahead, the Crimson has opportunities to improve before regionals.
“I’m excited for the regional meet next weekend. Over the next two weeks, we will focus on smaller details and things to improve upon from HEPs,” senior captain Davis said, “I’m very confident in our fitness, and I know we’ll be physically fresher and an even stronger team mentally when we race in Buffalo and are eyeing an NCAA championship spot.”
The women came into the race with much different expectations. After placing near the bottom of the pack in sixth last year at the Ivy League Championships, the team was ready to put a different mark on this year’s race.
The clear favorite No. 24 Colombia team took first with 54 points. However, the next spots were up for grabs. Havard ended up picking up second place in the Ivy League Championship with 89 points, Penn finished in third with 89 points as well, and Princeton finished in fourth with 90 points. This tight race meant that second place was decided by the tiebreaker performance of the Crimson women’s sixth runner.
“We were really pleased with the team performance at HEPs. We knew going in that if everyone had a good day, we had the chance to surprise the league, and that’s what ended up happening,” commented senior co-captain Gillian Meeks on the result. “It was inspiring to see team members who had had a rocky build-up this season put everything on the line for the team performance and pull off great races.”
The Harvard women were led by junior Anna Juul who finished the 6k course with a blistering time of 20:53.8 good for third in the meet. The top finisher in every race for the Crimson women this year captured valuable points for the team that allowed their pack to bring the second place home. For her efforts, Juul was named to the All-Ivy first team, the only member of either the Harvard men or women to garner such an honor this year.
The next pack of four women won the day for the Crimson. Junior Judy Pendergast, first-year Iz Sagar, Meeks, and junior Brooke Starn finished 20th, 21th, 22nd, and 23rd respectively. This cohesive pack finished within three seconds of each other. Simply judging by how close the scores were, if one of these runners were displaced from the pack, the Harvard women easily could have ended up in fourth.
However, the true key to the day came down to the sixth runner. In cross country, if a head to head score between two teams is tied, the winner is decided by whose sixth runner placed higher. In the case of the Crimson women, after their five scoring runners, they were tied 89 to 89 with Quakers. On a day where the Harvard women put so much on the line, everything fell in the right direction as sophomore Maya Rayle placed 37th in the race, beating out Penn’s sixth runner who placed 46th. Of note, Princeton’s sixth runner placed 31st, and would have beaten Harvard on the same tiebreaker if they had one more point from their top five scorers.
“It was also crazy that it came down to a tie-break to decide 2nd place team from 3rd place team, I’ve never had that happen to my team before. The fact that we won the tiebreak handily just shows how great of team performance it was,” commented Meeks on the team victory in tiebreak. “It was also super cool to have such a tight pack of our 2 to 5 runners all finishing right with each other and have an amazing individual 3rd place finish by Anna Juul.”
Overall, the performance for the Harvard women was about fight and determination. This finish gives them a huge boost going into regionals as they take on some of the best runners in the country.
“We are excited and optimistic heading into NCAA regionals,” said Meeks. “Even though we had a great team performance at Heps we still think that we have even more room for improvement and are aiming to finish top 2 in the region and gain a birth the national championships.”
Both teams have two weeks off before heading into regionals, which take place in Buffalo, N.Y.
— Staff writer William Connaughton can be reached at email@example.com.
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