Jane Miller

In qualifying for the NCAA Championship for the first time in 15 years, the No. 30 Yale women’s cross country team soared to new heights last season. First-team All-Ivy runners Frances Schmiede ’17 and Emily Waligurski ’17 carried the Bulldogs to the national stage, often finishing first and second for the Bulldogs with fellow senior Meredith Rizzo ’17 following in third.

But the graduation of the trio has altered the identity of the once top-heavy Elis, forcing the 2017 team to embrace pack running and depth more than in previous years. Receiving national attention with a place in the preseason poll, the Bulldogs will take their first steps towards meeting these high expectations at the annual Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet on Sept. 15.

“There is some pressure … coming off of the strong year that we had last season,” captain Kelli Reagan ’18 said. “But I think that’s just fuel for the fire, as they say. It’s really great to know that other coaches and teams are taking notice of us, and it just builds confidence.”

The team expects to have a tight pack this year with several runners training well in the preseason. Alongside Reagan, who was one of the select members of the team to compete at NCAAs last season, Dana Klein ’18 and Andrea Masterson ’19 return as strong candidates to lead Yale in 2017. Klein and Masterson rounded out the five scorers for the Elis at nationals behind the aforementioned three seniors.

Klein, who was named captain of the women’s track and field teams for both the indoor and outdoor seasons, finished fourth at last season’s HYP meet with a 5K time of 19:16.7. The New Jersey native crossed the line third in a pack of six Bulldogs that took spots two through seven in the race. Masterson followed just three seconds beyond for a top-six finish.

Yale will also lean on a talented recruiting class of five first years to add depth to its pack. Newcomers Kayley DeLay ’21 and Sevanne Ghazarian ’21 have looked especially strong throughout the preseason, according to Reagan. DeLay comes to New Haven as a former runner-up in the Florida 4A State Cross Country Championship while Ghazarian, who hails from Ontario, Canada, placed 10th in the 2016 Canadian Cross Country Championships.

“I think one of our strengths this season will be our ability to run together well as a team,” Arianna Lord ’20 said. “Pack running has been one of the key factors to our success over the past couple years, and I don’t think that will be any different this year.”

The Elis finished second in the Ivy League last year behind Harvard and find themselves in the same position to start this season. The No. 25 Crimson, ranking five places in front of Yale in the national poll, is the favorite to repeat in 2016. Still, the Ivy League and larger New England region remain anyone’s race.

The Bulldogs open their season on Sept. 15 when they host Harvard and Princeton at The Course at Yale. The season opener will be the Elis’ first home cross country event since 2013, when the Bulldogs last hosted the HYP event. Back then, only the seniors on this year’s team had matriculated at Yale.

The Bulldogs thoroughly dominated Harvard and Princeton in the annual three-team meet last year, claiming six of the top seven finishes in a 33-point rout, an enormous spread in cross country.

The golf course’s hilly terrain will be tough to manage, but the benefit of having practiced many a time on the course lies with the Bulldogs. This familiarity, coupled with the presence of hometown fans, will provide plenty of adrenaline, Reagan said.

“There’s a lot of pride on the line when we race Harvard and Princeton,” Klein said. “Having it at home is really exciting because a lot of alums will come out for that and there’s a lot of energy.”

Harvard’s Courtney Smith won last season’s HYP meet as a junior by less than a second over Schmeide. However, her phenomenal season, which catapulted her to 35th-place finish at NCAAs, ended with the announcement of her transfer to cross country powerhouse Stanford.

Yale will race in four more meets before the Ivy League Championship, scheduled for Oct. 27.

Won Jungwon.jung@yale.edu | @won_jung_ 

Matthew Mistermatthew.mister@yale.edu | @matthewmister19