Saturday, both the men’s and women’s cross country teams faced some of the toughest competition they have seen all year.
The men competed in the Pre-Nationals Invitational in Terre Haute, Ind., hosted by the University of Indiana, while the women ran in the University of Wisconsin’s Adidas Invitational held in Madison, Wis. The men finished in 23rd overall, while the women placed 37th.
“We went into Pre-Nats with the mindset that we can mix it up and run with these top tier national teams” said Alex Conner ’16 in an email.
Conner placed second for the Bulldogs with a personal best of 24:35.3 on the 8k course in Indiana.
The Pre-Nationals Invitational marked the first competitive race since the Paul Short Invitational earlier this month for the seven Bulldogs who ran Saturday; another squad of Yale runners competed at New England Championships last week. During their time off from the racecourse, these seven runners focused on building their race pace in preparation for the competition in Terre Haute.
“[Head] Coach [Paul Harkins] has been really emphasizing that we are able to run with these major programs, and I think with how [our] races and workouts have progressed this season we validated what he has been saying,” Conner said. “We’re very confident and we went into the race with that in mind.”
Race competitors for the Elis included runners from five out of the top 10 nationally ranked schools in the nation: Colorado, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Tulsa and fellow Ivy Princeton. The Elis placed ahead of league rivals Cornell and UPenn, but fell just short behind Indiana, Florida State and Virginia Tech, all three of which currently have national rankings.
Conner said that the team goals were to finish in the top half of the field and to try to crack the top 20. Although they did not break the top 20, the Eli’s certainly came close and are ready for their next challenge.
“This [was] the biggest race so far this year, with the most high quality teams,” said Kevin Dooney, who led the bulldogs with a 24:32.4 personal best finish. “[The mindset was to] run like we are capable of running—go out, and run our personal best.”
Dooney set his second consecutive personal record, topping his last effort by six seconds. In addition to Dooney and Conner, the Elis’ fourth place finisher, James Randon ’17, also set a personal best time in 24:53.6, officially breaking the 25 minute hurdle for the first time at the collegiate level.
Pre-Nationals gave the Bulldogs a chance to get a feel for what to expect from the Terre Haute course, where the Bulldogs hope to compete for a NCAA National Championships in November.
“The course was pretty awesome,” Conner said. “The land was bought with a cross country course in mind and the product really reflects that … it’s an honest course and was definitely a treat to be able to run on. It provid[ed] some added incentive for making Nationals.”
According to Dooney, the workouts leading up to the Ivy Heptagonal Championships — which will take place in two weeks — will be geared toward setting a faster pace and getting “race sharp.”
The Adidas Invitational was a tough meet for the women’s squad. Out of the 37 competing teams, 26 were nationally ranked in the top 40. Contenders also included Ivy rivals Harvard, Cornell, Dartmouth and Columbia, whom the Bulldogs will face again at the Ivy Heptagonal Championships.
“We really wanted to put [our leading runners] in the top 3rd of this field, and for our pack runners to put themselves in the top half of the field,” said Kira Garry ’15, who led the Bulldogs with a 6k personal best of 21:26 for 149th place out of 288 runners.
The seven Bulldogs who ran in Wisconsin will not be competing in the Central Connecticut Mini Meet this coming weekend, and will be using the time off to rest, recover and get in some quality workouts in preparation for the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships.
Running the longer 6k course was a new experience for many of the Elis who competed Saturday. The Thomas Zimmer Cross Country course, where the meet was held, is known as a hilly and challenging 6k trail. The Iona Invitational earlier this month was the last 6k the squad ran. This weekend, Hannah Alpert ’15 finished third for the Bulldogs in 22:03 behind Garry and Liana Epstein ’14, and Meredith Rizzo ’17 dropped her previous 6K time set in Iona by nearly a minute, finishing with a personal best of 22:04.
“We were disappointed with our team finish, however we had some individuals who had great performances,” Garry said.
This race provided the Bulldogs an opportunity to compete against some of the best teams in the nation, many of which they will be facing again come the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships next month at Van Cortlandt Park.
Garry noted that the team is working hard in practice and is hoping that pieces will ultimately come together for the squad,
“We will be looking to use this past weekend to get us pumped up for [Ivy] Heps. [This race was not] a good reflection of where our team is at right now,” Garry said.
The Bulldogs will compete in the Central Conn. State University Mini Meet at Stanley Quarter Park this Saturday, Oct. 25.