Following a third-place finish at the Northeast Regional Championships on Friday, the No. 23 Yale women’s cross country team earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship meet for the first time in 15 years.
After a tremendous regular season, the Bulldogs continued their strong performance in their second meet of the postseason, with the team’s 126 points representing Yale’s best finishing place at regionals since 2004. All five of the Elis’ scoring runners were within the top 30 in a field of over 250 competitors, and captain Frances Schmiede ’17 led the Bulldogs with a 15th-place finish.
The Bulldogs just missed an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships — which is granted only to the top two teams in each region — after placing behind No. 3 Providence and No. 18 Harvard. But Yale’s effort and solid finish were rewarded with an at-large bid to the championships next weekend, keeping its season alive for one more race.
“We knew that we had executed our race plan successfully and took pride in that feat, but it wasn’t necessarily going to guarantee us a spot at nationals,” Dana Klein ’18 said. “It was a nerve-wracking few hours, but we were going to remain proud no matter what the outcome was. We’re a really tight-knit group, and the fact that we get one more race together the season is the real gift in making NCAAs.”
The Bulldogs’ strategy of running together in packs gave them an edge over their tough competition, as it has in several meets this season. Schmiede and Meredith Rizzo ’17, Yale’s top and bottom scorers, respectively, were separated in the final standings by just 27 seconds.
Schmiede led a tight pack of Bulldogs, finishing with a final time of 20:55.00 on the six-kilometer Van Cortlandt Park course. Andrea Masterson ’19 was the next Bulldog across the line, and her time of 21:11.40 earned her 25th place overall. The rest of the scoring Elis were right on her heels, with Kelli Reagan ’18, Klein and Rizzo claiming three of the next five spots in 27th, 29th and 30th, respectively. All four of Yale’s next runners behind Schmiede finished within 10 seconds of each other, bookended by competitors from Ivy League rivals Cornell and Dartmouth.
Six teams from the Ivy League competed in this race, claiming second to seventh place, but only Harvard and Yale qualified for nationals from the Northeast region. No. 24 Penn, the only other Ivy League team that will compete next weekend, qualified with a third-place finish in the Mid-Atlantic regional meet.
“The race went out fast, but not unexpectedly quick given how flat the course is in the first half,” Schmiede said. “We knew that it would be very hard to make up ground in the second half of the course because it narrows and becomes a bit hilly, so we tried to go out near the positions we wanted to finish in. I felt really good about our race plan because it was all about focusing on ourselves, taking a position in a pack early in the race, running with the pace and seeing where that put us.”
While the strong team effort that the Bulldogs put forward was key to their success, the Elis also benefitted from some outstanding individual performances. Both Schmiede and Masterson earned All-Region honors, which are awarded to the top 25 runners, and thus individually qualified for the national meet next weekend. Schmiede’s finish at the regional meet marks the second consecutive race in which her performance has earned individual recognition, as she was awarded All-Ivy honors last weekend for her top-10 finish at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships.
Klein and Schmiede reiterated the team’s continued focus on running in groups, entering its last race of the season with confidence that its top runners will also continue to bolster Yale’s performance. Among the Elis, three seniors — Schmiede, Rizzo and Waligurski — will race in a Yale uniform for the last time this weekend.
“Every race this season has truly been a team effort,” Waligurski said. “When someone has an off day, others always step up to fill in the gaps. The ability of our team to stay connected and respond as the race progressed allowed for a strong finish together in the top of the field [on Friday].”
The NCAA championship meet will take place on Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Indiana.