November 1, 2005

Cross country braves hills at UAA meet: men overrun by CMU, finish second; Emory squeezes by women

With the conference title on the line, cross country entered last weekend’s UAA Championship meet looking to make some noise. Unfortunately, their top rivals refused to go quietly.

Fighting against stiff competition in Pittsburgh, neither team was able to win the league in the first meet of the championship season. Emory nipped the women for second place as fourth-ranked Washington rolled to the title, and the men were easily held off by a surprisingly successful Carnegie Mellon squad. It was the third second-place finish for the men to go along with two league titles in five years. The women’s third-place spot matched last year’s finish, extending their title drought to 12 seasons.

It was an admirable performance for a number of runners on the men’s team. Fourth-year Teage O’Connor led the way, grabbing first-team All-UAA honors with a seventh-place finish, crossing the line in 25:39. He was followed closely by All-UAA second teamers fourth-year Pat Hogan (9/25:49) and third-year Emil Bojanov (10/25:55).

However, they were unable to stop the Tartan onslaught. The home team grabbed 3rd, 6th, 8th, 13th, and 14th, finishing out their scoring before any other team had its fourth man cross the line. With just 44 points to Chicago’s 65, the Carnegie men earned their second league title ever, and their first since 1989.

“I really felt that our men’s team was ready to win this meet, and that they ran well enough to do so,” head coach Chris Hall said. “I was pleased with the way our guys ran, but really wanted that top spot. Carnegie had a fantastic day, what I felt was their best day ever.”

The Tartans had the added advantage of racing on their home course. A route liberally sprinkled with hills posed an aggravating, if invigorating, challenge for the flat-terrain-trained Maroons.

“The course itself was one of the best I’ve run in my four seasons of cross country at the U of C,” Hogan said. “It was a challenging trail through some woods with a crazy, all-downhill first mile and a soul-wrenching [uphill] for the last.”

With the meet title decided, the Maroons needed some good performances to come out on top in a dogfight with 10th-ranked NYU and 18th-ranked Wash U for the next spot. They got them from third-year Brian Hague (18/26:16) and second-year Ryan McCarl (21/26:24). The two finished ahead of the fourth runners from NYU (third place overall) and a surprisingly shallow Wash U squad that finished fourth.

The Maroons’ performance relative to Wash U bodes well for the Midwest Regional meet November 12, and the performance of first-year Jon Ascolese gave the team a program-record six runners in the top 23. However, the 45-second spread between their first and fifth finishers was not quite up to standard, and will likely need to be cut down if the men hope to advance to the nationals for the second straight year.

The 14th-ranked women were not expected to contend for the title against Wash U (31 points), who opened up a large gap on a good field. The team had hoped to slip into the second spot ahead of the 23rd-ranked Eagles, and nearly beat them out, scoring 77 points to Emory’s 72.

“We fell just five points short of our goal,” Hall said. “It was an extremely close race.”

The women also had an all-UAA first teamer in fourth-year captain Jessica Winter, who made the squad for the third straight year with her 22:18 showing. It was good for second place, but was 11 seconds behind Wash U third-year Beth Herndon.

Third-years Dilshanie Perera (9/23:01.2) and Vidthya Abraham (10/23:01.7) made the second team, but the standings were decided at the fourth and fifth spots, where fourth-year Annie Sanders (25/23:40) and third-year Jackie Kropp (34/23:59) were unable to overcome Emory, who placed scoring runners at 21st and 28th and a displacement runner at 33rd.

In hostile territory the Maroons fell back on their season-long pack strategy. Running in crowds gave some Maroons just enough of an edge to run stronger and undermine their opponents’ confidence.

“It’s awesome to be able to feed off of each other’s strengths during a race and also pretty demoralizing to other teams when they’re getting passed by not one, but two or three of us,” Abraham said. “So, whenever there is an opportunity to run with any of my teammates around me in a race, I’ll take it gladly.”

The Maroons are now looking for nationally qualifying performances at the Midwest Regional meet on November 12 in Peoria. The teams will benefit from the quality racing experience gained in battling through the ultra-tough UAA. The league includes four nationally ranked teams on the men’s side and three on the women’s.

With a squad full of NCAA championship meet veterans, including McCarl, Bojanov, Hague, and O’Connor for the men and Winter, Perera, and Sanders for the women, both teams know exactly what they must do to place in the top five at Regionals and advance to the NCAA Championship meet in Delaware, Ohio November 19.

“Right now we are simply focusing on the regional meet in hopes of going to the NCAAs,” Hall said. “We have a very good opportunity to advance but must have a great day to accomplish that goal. All season we’ve looked to the regional meet and the idea of both squads advancing. Our goals have never wavered, but it is going to be a very difficult challenge.”