It would be difficult to imagine a better opening to the season than the Yale women’s cross-country team’s start.
The Bulldogs won their third consecutive meet, outrunning 44 other teams in the Gold Race at the Paul Short Run at Lehigh, an impressive feat given that this event included some of the toughest competition that Yale has seen all season. Emily Waligurski ’17 led the Elis in the 6k race, finishing fifth overall with a time of 20:15, but her scoring teammates were not far behind. Captain Frances Schmiede ’17 was only seven seconds behind Waligurski’s leading time, and Kelli Reagan ’18 followed the captain across the finish line just three seconds later. Meredith Rizzo ’17 and Andrea Masterson ’19 rounded out the team’s scorers, finishing in 31st and 35th place, respectively.
The race was a close one, with the top 60 of the 404 total competitors finishing within one minute of each other. There were only 28 seconds between the leading Bulldog and the fifth-scoring Yale competitor, and according to Schmiede, the Elis’ ability to finish in a close pack was key to their impressive finish.
The high number of runners competing represented a new challenge for the team and contributed to a slow start off the line. The Yale team was forced to play catchup, but after a strong effort during the first mile, the squad was successful in establishing a good position for the remainder of the race. A controlled middle of the race meant that the Bulldogs were able to put in the extra burst of effort needed to finish strong.
“With so many people in the race, it’s easy to get caught in the funnel,” Sarah Healy ’18 said. “Luckily, it is such a long race, so you have time to recover.”
The team’s training thus far has emphasized the importance of running together, and the Bulldogs were successful at staying in packs, particularly in the last two miles. Remaining together was key for the Elis — even when the Yale competitors spread out as the race progressed, there were never any big gaps between individual runners.
“It was great to stay connected throughout the race. We never really lost sight of each other,” Waligurski said. “That meant that we could work together to have a strong finish, which was really important for our team.”
The tough competition at this meet is particularly encouraging for the Bulldogs, who had the opportunity to match up against the nation’s top-ranked teams, such as No. 19 Georgetown. This race also provided the Bulldogs with an opportunity to compare themselves to their competitors in the Ivy League — Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania all had runners taking part in the meet.
“This is something we are aware of in these races,” Schmiede said. “There are a lot of familiar faces from the Ivy League teams, and it’s in the back of everyone’s mind. It’s a great confidence booster for us to know that we can compete and excel against these kind of teams and match up with them pretty well.”
Even more impressive was the fact that all 10 Bulldogs competing in this meet had personal best performances. Waligurski beat her personal best in the distance by almost a minute, and her fifth-place finish was her highest career finish at any cross-country meet. Schmiede dropped 30 seconds off her previous career-best mark and improved her time by over two minutes from when she ran this same race two years ago. The non-scoring runners also put in impressive performances that bode well for the overall strength of the team. In particular, Gemma Shepherd ’20 had a stunning debut — her final time of 20:56 was potentially one of the fastest times that an incoming athlete has ever run for the Bulldogs.
“Races like this are the reward for all the training and the work we put in,” Healy said. “We have things to work on, in particular making sure we get off to a better start, but there are a lot of positives to take from our performance.”
The Bulldogs race next weekend at the New England Championships in Boston before taking to the course at the Heptagonal Championships on Oct. 29.