CROSS COUNTRY: Bulldogs build confidence, depth and speed

This Saturday, the men’s and women’s cross-country squads were back on the Franklin Park course in Boston for the New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association Championships (NEIAAAC), which includes New England schools across the DI, DII and DIII levels. The men placed solidly, finishing 10th out of 41 teams. The women finished third out of 67 competitors.

“We felt like we had something to prove this weekend,” Elizabeth MacDonald ’16 said. “We were really excited to race and ran with total confidence.”

MacDonald finished second for the Bulldogs and 35th overall with a time of 18:26.

The women’s team exceeded expectations, improving on the sixth-place finish that the team had at this same event last year. Kira Garry ’15 led the Bulldog pack, taking 13th place with a time of 17:56 — one of her best times so far this season.

For a few of the women, this was the second or third time racing in Franklin Park this year. Garry said that the course is variable and one of the more challenging courses that Yale competes on. All of the Bulldogs’ top five scorers completed the course in under 20 minutes. Only the University of New Hampshire and UConn finished before the Elis.

Both MacDonald and Garry emphasized the team objective of “getting out hard” from the starting line. In a field with nearly 250 competing runners, they added that it was incredibly important to start out in front and not get stuck in the middle. MacDonald added that the Bulldogs could potentially improve on Saturday’s performance.

“This race has given us a lot of momentum,” MacDonald said. “We’re building on what we have done earlier in the season and are now just staying focused and running hard.”

The women will face high standards at the Adidas Invitational in Wisconsin this coming weekend. The race is a 6K, which is longer than the 5K’s the team has faced so far.

“The focus right now is to get shorter, more quality workouts in,” Garry said. “We’re backing off the mileage, and really focusing on getting more race-pace efforts in. It’s really more about fine-tuning.”

Although the men were unable to match last year’s third-place finish, solid finishes by Michael Cunetta ’14 and Tom Harrison ’15 showed that the team still had depth, as the squad’s top seven runners took the weekend off to rest and prepare for the pre-national meet this coming weekend.

“We were less concerned with the team score and more looking for solid individual performances — personal bests, season bests and good race efforts,” Cunetta said. “The focus for everyone was on running fast and competitively. Personally, my goal was to PR, which I did by 13 seconds so I was very happy. I am excited to have three full weeks of training before [the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships], where I know I can run well under 25 minutes and help the team to a strong finish in the league.”

The Bulldogs are setting high standards for the Pre-Nationals Race in Terre Haute, Ind. this coming Saturday. Coming off of the New England Championship, the men will continue to maintain their mileage during practices and add more speed work to build up the race pace.

“Pre-Nats” is the opportunity for the Bulldogs to compete against some of the best schools in the nation. Although he will not be running, Cunetta said that he believes the squad has the potential to upset some of the nationally ranked teams that it will face.

“[Cross-country is a sport that] doesn’t tolerate giving up midway through,” Cunetta said. “None of us would have made it this far if we didn’t learn to gut it out. Running a cross-country race is going to hurt no matter what, but the faster you make it to the finish line, the more likely you will look back on it as a good hurt and not a bad hurt.”

The men’s and women’s teams will both race again on Saturday, Oct. 19.

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