Courtesy of Tom Connelly_

Yale men’s cross country captain Austin Stoner ’20 is entering his final season running for the Bulldogs, and yet even after three years in New Haven, he has only raced once at home.

For cross country, competitions in the Elm City are rare, but both the women and men open their season with one on Friday afternoon as the Elis host Harvard at The Course at Yale. Having missed out on a berth to the NCAA Division I National Championship race by just six points shy of an automatic qualification last fall, the Yale women seek a return to Nationals for the first time since 2016.

The men, meanwhile, hope to open their season with renewed focus after mostly underwhelming performances last season. An upset over the Crimson, whose men placed second at last November’s Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, would help set the tone the Bulldogs seek for the rest of the season.

“After a disappointing season last year, we have been written-off by regional and Ivy League rankings, but we are ready to be the underdogs this year and to prove those [people] wrong,” Stoner said. “We have taken a good, long look in the mirror on how we are going to be great this year and turn things around. I don’t think we have ever been more fit, prepared and excited to start a season in my four years here. The anticipation is palpable heading into this weekend.”

Friday’s race will mark the first time Harvard visits New Haven in any sport this fall. While the Elis opened last season at the Fordham Fiasco race, Yale kicked off the fall campaign in 2017 against its archrival. On Sep. 15, 2017 — the date of the program’s last home competition — a battle with the Crimson and Princeton began the season. Taking three of the top five spots against Harvard in a six-kilometer dual race, the Yale men captured first, while the women finished second behind Princeton in a four-kilometer race.

Trevor Reinhart ’19, who led the men last year with a 30th-place finish at the Ivy League Heptagonals and a 46th-place finish at the NCAA Division I Northeast Regionals graduated this year; however, the Bulldogs return six of last fall’s top seven, highlighted by a strong sophomore class that includes Hugh Sadler ’22, Robert Miranda ’22 and Cade Brown ’22. They ultimately finished seventh at Ivys and 17th at the 10-kilometer Regional in Buffalo.

But head men’s coach Paul Harkins feels the team has made strong progress over the summer and are well prepared for the imminent start of the season. Despite cross country finishes in the bottom half of the Ancient Eight last year, the Elis enter 2019 with the expectation that they can compete with anybody in the Ivy, Harkins said.

The women, meanwhile, run under the leadership of a new head coach, Taryn Sheehan, who started at Yale on Sept. 1 after coaching at Western Michigan and Louisville. Sheehan told the News that she has been “so impressed” with the Elis after her first two weeks of practice.

“Their passion, teamwork and effort has been at such a high level,” Sheehan said. “I am very encouraged for what lies ahead. Practices have been very challenging, and they have already risen to the occasion. What makes me even more excited is the depth we could potentially take advantage of this fall. The upperclassmen that are making some big improvements from last year, and many of the young women on the team are not afraid to stick their noses in the front.”

Former captain Andrea Masterson ’19, who cemented herself as one of the best runners in program history, raced individually at Nationals in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Although the Elis will be without her, like the men, they return the other six of last year’s top seven runners. The sextet includes Kayley DeLay ’21 and Morgin McCormick ’22, who earned All-Region honors alongside Masterson last fall, as well as Jocelyn Chau ’22, Sevanne Ghazarian ’21, Jane Miller ’20 — a staff reporter for the News — and Arianna Lord ’20.

Nationals loom just 10 weeks away in Terre Haute, Indiana, but the women are first focused on gauging their strengths and fitness against a strong Harvard opponent. Though the Crimson, which finished eighth at Regionals, did not qualify for Nationals last season either, races against Ivy League competition provide an indicator for the Elis’ national competitiveness in a race with comparatively low stakes.

“The Harvard–Yale dual meet is a long-standing tradition, and there is always some pride on the line,” captain Lauren Chapey ’20 said. “It’s also our first meet of the season, and we really have our eyes set on November…[it] will be a great primer for bigger meets later this fall.”

Harvard’s men received eight votes in the most recent DI National Coaches’ Poll, which ranks the top 30 teams in the country. The other Ancient Eight squad involved in the conversation is Princeton, who ranks 21st in the nation.

On the women’s side, neither Harvard nor Yale received votes in the national poll. Columbia ranks 18th in the country, while the Tigers rank 23rd. In the regional poll, Yale ranks seventh, while the Crimson rank eighth.

“We ultimately are aiming to establish ourselves back into the top half of the Ivy League, and I believe we are more than capable of accomplishing that,” Stoner said. “Friday marks our first step in that process … To have fans and friends and family out there to support us is going to be an incredible experience, and we are looking to use that excitement to propel ourselves to some outstanding performances.”

The Yale women are scheduled to start Friday at 4:45 p.m., while the men will follow at 5:15 p.m.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu