Courtesy of Tom Connelly

More than 21 months after their last race, the Yale men’s and women’s cross country teams are readying themselves for their season opener against Harvard and Princeton this Saturday. 

The Crimson will pose a measured threat to the Eli runners, with both their men’s and women’s teams placing second at the last Ivy Heptagonal held in the fall of 2019. The Tigers’ men’s and women’s squads finished in third and fourth, respectively, while the two Bulldog teams finished in fifth.

Men’s head coach Paul Harkins foresees the Saturday meet as featuring “three of the best teams in the league,” and a chance to “gauge where we are and what we need to do in order to achieve our goals this season.”

“Harvard and Princeton are always tough opponents, so it’s great to start off with this rivalry, but it will also be good for the young guys to preview the course we’ll be running at Ivy League Championships at the end of October,” Harkins said. The race will take place on Princeton’s home turf. 

Throughout the fall, the Blue and White will compete all across New England and cross the finish line in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida and Connecticut. Their season is set to culminate with the Ivy League Cross Country Championships in Princeton, New Jersey. Strong performances may see them through to the NCAA Northeast Regional and finally the NCAA Cross Country Championship at the end of November. 

The cancellation of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic upended the teams’ usual balance of experience, bringing in a swath of fresh recruits. According to men’s captain Will Laird ’22, half of the team is yet to race in a Yale singlet. Laird hopes to bring his experience as Yale’s all-time sixth-fastest mile record holder to the table and “provide guidance when needed,” as “transitioning to collegiate running isn’t always easy,” he said.

“I am really excited to have a competitive season for the first time in over a year,” Laird said. “It has been challenging having the team spread out across the world the past 18 months. Being able to have everyone back together, running well and ready to race is really exciting, and I’m looking forward to what this team can do.”

Leading the line for the women this year is captain Kayley DeLay ’22, who led the team in every race she competed in during the 2019-20 season and finished first in the 6K race at the 2019 Ivy Heptagonal Cross Country Championships. 

DeLay is most looking forward to getting back to racing with the team and hopes that, as captain, she is able to encourage her teammates to “strive for their goals with confidence.”

Women’s head coach Taryn Sheehan believes that while inexperience at the collegiate level may be a hurdle for the team to overcome, the abnormally long off-season brought on by the pandemic has allowed for the upperclassmen to strengthen their leadership skills. 

For Harkins, the pandemic taught the team “how to be flexible in [its] approach and to appreciate and cherish the day-to-day experiences and team interactions [it] potentially took for granted or didn’t think were big things, pre-pandemic.”

Princeton and Harvard began their seasons last Friday.

Ryan Chiao serves as a photography editor at the Yale Daily News and moonlights as a staff reporter for the sports desk. Originally from Hong Kong, Ryan is majoring in Global Affairs and is a staunch supporter of the Oxford comma. Catch him on the IM fields playing ultimate frisbee or in the pool drowning with the water polo team.