In any cross country meet, victory is decided not along the course, but at the finish line.

So although the Yale men’s cross country team extended its winless streak at the Harvard–Yale––Princeton meet to 10 races on Saturday, the Bulldogs’ second-place finish at West Windsor Fields in New Jersey did little to hinder the team’s long-term aspirations of triumphing at season’s end at the Ivy League Championships.

Having raced at Fordham just a week earlier and competing without several key contributors, the Bulldogs put up little resistance against a formidable Princeton pack which took five of the top 10 finishing spots and finished with 23 points as a team. Yale captain James Randon ’17 had the fastest individual time of any athlete and his exceptional run, combined with notable performances from a mix of Eli veterans and newcomers, helped Yale stave off a Crimson comeback in a close battle for second place. While not expecting to win on Saturday, Yale used the meet as a measuring stick for future competition.

“Our expectation going in was to get a good sense of where we are in comparison to Harvard and Princeton,” head coach Paul Harkins said. “We knew we were running shorthanded … Going in, I knew we [had] not peaked or trained properly to be at our ultimate best, but shooting for [the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and NCAA Regionals], it gave us a good idea as to where we were coming in.”

The Bulldogs started quick in the early stages of the eight-kilometer race. Randon, Andre Ivankovic ’17, Adam Houston ’18, Spike Sievert ’17 and Hale Ross ’18 held each of the top five positions at the mile mark, with Randon and Ivankovic leading the charge with matching 5:16.5 mile times.

Princeton and Harvard soon made their gains on the Eli frontrunners, as the two teams each took shares of the lead close to 16 minutes into the event. Randon and Ross, despite each reaching the three-mile checkpoint in just 15:45.1, had narrowly ceded the top spots to the Tigers’ Conor Lundy and the Crimson’s Will Battershill.

But the final leg of the race belonged to Randon, who opened up a two-second lead on Lundy in the final minutes and broke the tape with a meet-best 24:58.9, building upon a strong junior campaign that included a fifth-place finish at HYP and an All-American nod in the spring during the track and field season.

“Being captain, you always want to bring people up with you, and it naturally helps to be the fastest guy,” Randon said. “It feels like there’s a lot of pressure to make sure that I perform for my team, and I take my responsibility as captain very seriously.”

Despite Randon’s top effort, Yale’s orange-clad rival owned the strength in numbers on Saturday. Following the Bulldog leader, the Tigers claimed the next four spots atop the leaderboard, clinching the Main Memorial Trophy for the fifth consecutive contest. Behind Randon, the Eli top five was rounded out by two upperclassmen, Ivankovic and Ross, and the freshman duo of Allen Siegler ’20 and Armstrong Noonan ’20.

“We’re adjusting well to losing our former seniors who graduated,” Ivankovic said. “We have a very strong group of young runners and it’s inspiring to see so much potential in the program.”

The contributions of the two fresh faces were underscored by the absence of a pair of more experienced Yale competitors. Cameron Stanish ’17, who scored points for the Bulldogs in last year’s third-place finish at the Ivy League Championships, and Trevor Reinhart ’19, a contributor as a freshman on Yale’s track and field team, both took the weekend off to nurse their respective Achilles and ankle injuries. Harkins said Stanish trained this past week but was held back for precautionary reasons while Reinhart is expected to be back on the course by the end of the month.

Though a runner-up finish at HYP may be disappointing to some, Harkins contextualized the results of the weekend and the looming challenges remaining on the schedule with a dose of perspective.

“While HYP is important, on a scale of one-to-10 it is a four in terms of importance,” Harkins said. “When we get to [Ivies] and Regionals, those are the 10s. This is all practice for down the line. There’s so much parity in the [Ivy League] that we just have to be the team that’s most ready on that day.”

The Bulldogs will race four more times before toeing the line at the Ivy League Championships at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Oct. 29.