Jane Miller

Members of both the Yale men’s and women’s cross country teams will compete at the highest level of collegiate athletics as they seek to finish their seasons with their most impressive results yet.

The No. 26 women’s team is headed to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2001, after a third-place finish in the Northeast Regional Championships earned the Elis an at-large bid to the meet. On the men’s side, captain James Randon ’17 will be competing in his first championship race after a successful performance at last weekend’s Northeast Regional.

A team of seven runners — Dana Klein ’18, Andrea Masterson ’19, Kate Raphael ’18, Kelli Reagan ’18, Meredith Rizzo ’17, captain Frances Schmiede ’17 and Emily Waligurski ’17 — will compete in Indiana. Masterston and Schmiede, on account of their strong performances last weekend, earned All-Region honors and also qualified individually for the meet.

“We are thrilled to be able to represent Yale at the national level as a team for the first time in a while,” Waligurski said. “Our meet in Wisconsin earlier in the season served us well in preparation for the type of race to expect at the National Championship. Our strategy of staying connected will remain the same, [and] it will be important in the more competitive field to get a good position early on.”

According to Klein, the course is spectator-friendly and requires multiple loops around the same grass fields. The race is fairly flat, but includes some rolling hills and gradual inclines. As they have all season, the Bulldogs will look to run in packs and to be bolstered by strong individual performances from leading runners.

The last time Yale competed at the National Championships in 2001, it placed 13th out of the 31 teams competing. Both Schmiede and Klein expressed confidence that the Bulldogs can once again place in the top 20 this coming weekend.

“For nationals, we’re really excited to give it everything we’ve got,” Klein said. “It feels like a victory in itself that we got to this point, but knowing our group and the competitive nature of each individual, we’re going to want to make the most of this opportunity. I’m so grateful to be a part of this team, especially at a time when the program is taking such positive steps forward.”

The Bulldogs’ consistently impressive fall season represents a steady improvement that the seniors, in particular, can attest to. Four years ago, when Rizzo, Schmiede and Waligurski were freshmen, Yale placed 13th at Northeast Regionals. Two years ago, the team was 10th and last year, it was fifth.

Even compared to last season, the team has made great strides. In 2015, Yale only placed first in one meet, the CCSU Mini Meet in Louisville. This year, the Eli women once again won at the CCSU, but also started the season with three consecutive first-place finishes, including against their Ivy League competition at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet; the first time in over a decade that the Bulldogs have won this event.

“Being a senior, I really appreciate how far this program has come, and I’m very proud to say that we’re a national-level team,” Schmiede said. “One thing that has changed in my time here is the level of anxiety on the team. We really truly believe that we’re capable of the goals we set, and we execute our training calmly. We take that mindset into racing, and we feed off each other’s confidence.”

The lone runner racing for the men’s team, Randon hopes to continue his tremendous 2016 campaign, a season in which he has won three races already — including a first-place finish at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships.

“Being a relatively lower mileage guy compared to most people who make nationals, I probably won’t recover super well from the [10-kilometer] regional race,” Randon said. “But I honestly don’t feel like it took too much out of me, so perhaps I’ll be as fresh as ever come Saturday.”

Randon qualified for the event after running a 30:39.6 at Regionals on Nov. 11, a personal best at the 10-kilometer distance. Since Yale finished outside of the top two,  the captain did not automatically qualify for the race, but his mark was good enough to earn him an at-large selection. Randon will also be racing alongside runners from Columbia, Dartmouth and Penn, as one of 14 competitors representing the Ancient Eight.

Coming off a fifth place finish at the regional championships, Randon hopes to earn All-American honors, which are awarded to the top 40 runners at this event. At last season’s NCAA Championships, Yale’s only male runner — former captain Kevin Dooney ’16 — placed 61st with an individual time of 30:41.0.

“A really great cap to my season would be to get All-American,” Randon said. “ I’d currently say I’m in position to be there, but it’s going to be close.”

The Yale women will race at 11:00 a.m., while Randon will compete at 12:00 p.m at the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana.