Strong performances from underclassman Bulldogs in the 19th Annual Iona College Meet in New York’s Van Cortlandt Park on Saturday bode well for the men’s and women’s cross country teams as they start their seasons.
After a tough but well-fought loss to Harvard in their opening meet, both the men’s and women’s teams rebounded this weekend. The men’s squad had an outstanding performance, posting a second place overall finish out of a field of 18, and the women’s team recorded 13th of 20 teams participating.
Though no Bulldogs made the top 10, the men’s team was one of only three teams to place all seven runners within the top 50.
For the second straight week, Alex Conner ’15 and James Randon ’16 led the way for the Bulldogs, each finishing with a time of 25:57.1 for 14th and 15th place. John McGowan ’14, who posted a third-place finish against the Crimson last week, came in third for the Elis at Van Cortlandt with a time of 26:00.52.
In high school, Randon was a three-time New Balance All-American. Now running at the more competitive level where team success depends on a “pack-running” strategy, Randon has taken on a new approach to races.
“It’s a longer distance now than in high school — 8k rather than 5k. … I’m no longer trying to get way ahead at the start of the race,” Randon said. “We work more as a team, and run as a pack.”
Randon added that in this race, the first through fifth place Bulldog runners finished within 23 seconds of one another.
According to team captain Ryan Laemel ’13, part of the team’s success this weekend had a lot to do with getting through the first meet of the season.
“It’s important to practice what it feels like to race again. We got our first race out of the way at Harvard and could now improve on our performance for the following week. … We are all settled [academically] and can now focus on racing,” Laemel said.
The women’s team brought six runners to the race, mainly freshman and middle-distance track runners, with the purpose of preparing them for the Boston College meet next weekend.
For Meredith Rizzo ’17, Van Cortlandt Park was no unfamiliar trail. The freshman went to high school at Bronxville in New York and said that it was “really nice to be back on [her] home course.” Rizzo led the Bulldog pack Saturday, placing 17th out of 190 competitors with a solid 23:26.17 finish.
“The adjustment [to running at the competitive collegiate level] has been good so far. I’ve been trying to stay calm and run as I’ve always run in all my races. I don’t let the fact that there are some girls who are four years older than me with experience be an intimidating factor.” Rizzo said.
The women placed 13th out of 20 competing teams, of which 14 are other Northeast Regional schools they will face again at the NCAA Regionals. The Bulldogs beat five of their regional contenders, one of which was Ivy rival Brown.
“The goal was to run a good race and get our first 6k under our belt,” Rizzo said. “I think what we did best this weekend was supporting each other. During the race, the strategy was to work together and push each other through to the finish.”
Though this was their first appearance in the Iona meet since 2009, the Bulldogs have had much experience on the Van Cortlandt trail over the past few years. This also will not be the last time both squads take on the challenging Van Cortlandt this season, as the NCAA Region Championships will be held at the park in November.
“Van Cortlandt is revered by many distance runners. It’s known for being a hilly course that challenges all runners equally. Even a person who is more inclined to run the mile during track season will struggle just as much as a person who is a pure cross country runner,” team captain Ryan Laemel ’13 said.
He added that there are rolling hills, which are very relentless no matter where you are on the course.
“Cemetery Hill is the most famous part of the course, which is about two minutes long. You just have to put your head down and grind through it. Then after that, it’s about a kilometer to the finish,“ he said.
The women will be heading back to Franklin Field this Friday, Sept. 27 for the Boston College meet set for 3:30 p.m. The next race for the men is the Paul Short Invitational held in Bethlehem Penn., which is set for Oct. 5.