Inexperienced college runners like Murat Kayali ’09 and Kelli Buck ’09 rarely get a chance to lead their teams across the finish line at a major race, but that was the case this weekend.
With the top 10 runners from both cross country teams resting this week in preparation for next week’s Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Indiana, the men’s and women’s teams placed 20th and 15th, respectively, by using junior varsity runners in the varsity fields at this weekend’s New England Cross Country Championships in Boston, Mass.
Some of the top Eli runners traveled to Boston to practice on the course in anticipation of Regionals on November 12, which will take place on the same Franklin Park course and determine two automatic bids to Nationals.
Each race featured more than 40 New England teams, ranging from larger competitors such as Boston University and Harvard to some of the smallest schools in the area, including Southern New Hampshire and Wheaton College. The sheer size of the event gave Yale’s less experienced runners — the Kayalis and Bucks of the program — a chance to break through.
Kayali led the men across the finish line in 82nd place, finishing the 4.95 mile course in 26:46. Close behind were Nathan Clute ’07 (26:53), Andrew Samuel ’09 (26.56) and Eric Kerchberger ’08 (26:58).
With a score of 533 points, the Bulldogs lagged well behind team champion and Ivy rival Brown, which claimed four of the top seven spots to score 40 points and edge out second-place finisher Harvard. Brown captain Owen Washburn ’06 led the Bears, winning in 24:56.
With such a clear divide separating full-strength teams and the resting Bulldogs, Yale settled into the middle ground between the major programs and the likes of 43rd-place Fitchburg State.
Rain slowed the notoriously fast course, but Kerchberger said that weather did not affect the typical Eli strategy.
“As usual, we wanted to go out there and run together and move up together, as a pack,” Kerchberger said.
The close times show how cohesive the Bulldog pack remained, but it did not move up as far as they had hoped. The disparity between Yale and teams like Dartmouth, which did not send its top runners but still managed to finish fourth overall, underscores differences in team depth.
“Their finishing so high definitely shows how deep Dartmouth is, but only seven guys count at Heps so we aren’t really concerned that they have a stellar 12th man,” said captain Pat Dantzer ’06, who rested this weekend.
Much like the men, the young Yale women saw this weekend as a chance for the less noticed runners to assume temporary leadership roles.
Leading the pack was Buck, who finished in 18:51 on the approximately 5K course to place 36th. Jackie Myers ’07 crossed 56th in 19:13, followed by Ingrid Sproll ’08, who placed 85th with a time of 19:31.
Boston University won handily, scoring 56 points. But Quinnipiac’s Katie Gwyther ’06 won with a time of 16:54, 36 seconds ahead of the Crimson’s captain and the overall second-place finisher, Lindsey Scherf ’08.
Buck, who was coming off of a strong performance in the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet the prior weekend, said the chance to lead her team in such a large event was an eye-opening experience.
“Starting off on the line with so many people there was new and a little bit surprising,” Buck said. “This was the biggest race I’ve ever been in, by far.”
But the upperclassmen, who Buck said exerted an important “calming influence” on the younger runners, also had to adjust to playing a new role. Usually relegated to following in the shadows of runners like Lindsay Donaldson ’08, this weekend gave the less accomplished Myers and Sproll an opportunity to control the team’s attitude and strategy.
“Our coach told us he wanted us to lead the warm-up,” Myers said. “He told us to make sure everyone knew we are the A-team and we’re going to go out there with that mentality even though the top runners aren’t running.”
The experience of having been in the same position as runners like Buck just a year or two before helped the upperclassmen ease the younger runners into the race. As Sproll pointed out, it also made her appreciate the progress Buck has made in the last few weeks, now that she has had a chance to run in big races.
“I know for me last year I raced well there and it gave me a chance to establish myself,” Sproll said. “Kelli has really been improving over the last few races, and this weekend she ran really smart and really well.”