The Yale men’s cross country team opted for a long-distance strategy, sitting its top 11 runners at the New England Championships on Saturday and instead fielding a team of middle distance runners and freshman debutantes that finished in the middle of the 34-team race.
With the Bulldogs’ top group of runners resting this weekend, the challenge of representing the Elis at the New England Championships fell on a new batch of young and developing runners, in addition to middle distance track athletes. Despite personal records from Scott Meehan ’18, James Lewis ’20 and Pete Ryan ’20 in his debut, the Bulldogs finished 19th in a pool of 34 teams in the eight-kilometer race.
“The main goal of the group running on Saturday in Boston was to get more experience with college cross country,” Thomas Gmür ’18. “Most of us were middle-distance runners or freshmen with little experience in the event. Thus, at this point and for this group, every race is primarily an opportunity to learn how to approach an eight-kilometer cross country race, both mentally and physically.”
The team was led by Ryan, who placed 79th in a pool of 221 runners with a time of 26:10.90. The Nike High School All-American spent the team’s first four meets recuperating from high school injuries that had not allowed him to compete. However, on Saturday he ran an average mile of 5:16.0 minutes in his first eight-kilometer race.
“Considering this was his first [collegiate long distance meet], Ryan ran it like a veteran — his cross country IQ is so good” head coach Paul Harkins said. “He’s making a lot of progress. I think he can have a great future as long as we keep him training consistently, keep him healthy and let his natural ability take over.”
After a relatively conservative start that placed him in the middle of the running pack, Ryan was able to capitalize on his established position and controlled pace to get hold of a strong line that allowed him to separate from the middle portion of the group. With increasingly stronger intervals during the second half of the event, he finished with a time nearly five minutes faster than the next fastest Bulldog: Meehan.
Despite finishing in the 82nd position, Meehan had a strong personal showing. Thanks to a very aggressive start, he managed to shave almost a whole minute off his personal-best time. Meehan’s mile pace of 5:16.8, led the Bulldogs until the last thousand meters, when Ryan sped up in the final eighth to pass him. Meehan finished with a final time of 26:15.1 Another of the middle distance runners, Lewis finished third for the Elis on Saturday. He placed 101st with a personal-best time of 26:33.14, more than 30 seconds faster than his Fordham Invite personal record. Gmür and Michael Yuan ’18 rounded off the scored finishes, coming in the 122nd and 146th positions, respectively. Tim Cox ’17 was the last Bulldog to cross the line in the 169th position.
Leakey Kipkosgei, a sophomore at Division II American International College, took first place in the meet with a time of 24.21.6, almost two minutes ahead of the fastest Yale runner. Northeastern headed the team standings with a score of 102 points, separating itself from the Elis by 428 points.
Ryan’s solid debut and Lewis’ second consecutive personal record indicate the strength of the current freshman class and its ability to positively impact the future of the men’s cross country program.
“I’m excited, [our] freshman class is a very, very good one, they are young and developing” Harkins said. “They are progressing very well. A couple of guys might be able to work their way into the top group [of runners].”
Given the talent among the young runners, several team members said they were excited to see the underclassmen develop throughout the remainder of the season. Even with this weekend’s relatively unremarkable result, Lewis is positive that the team can improve upon last year’s result at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships at the end of October.
“As a team we are looking to better our third-place finish at Heps,” Lewis said. “[We will] use that momentum to carry us on to the NCAA Championships.”
Two of the top runners for Yale, Trevor Reinhart ’19 and Cameron Stanish ’18, will return this weekend at the Princeton Invitational. The performance of the team this coming weekend will serve as a solid preview for Heps, as they are both taking place in Princeton.
Reinhart has not yet sported Yale colors for the men’s cross country team. A high school injury kept him in the sidelines during the fall of his freshman year, but the team is enthusiastically awaiting his debut.
“Trevor had a really good track season for us and a very good high school career,” Harkins said. “We are excited for him to showcase that ability down at Princeton.”