Cross Country Returns to Binghamton for Conference Championship
ALBANY, N.Y. – After two and a half months of training and four weekends of competition, the University at Albany men’s and women’s cross country teams find themselves on the cusp of the America East Conference Championship. A season’s worth of effort will culminate this weekend on the course where the year kicked off in September.
The men’s and women’s teams return to Vestal, New York on Saturday where Binghamton will host the conference championship races. Competition kicks off at 11:00 a.m. with the women's 5K race, followed by the men's 8K race at noon. The Bearcats hosted the inaugural race of the season, the America East Pre-Conference Meet, back in September. The UAlbany women took the team title in that race, which featured five of eight America East squads. Senior Brittney Lane won the individual title as well, leading a group of five UAlbany runners finishing in the top 10, and helping the Danes edge out a three-point victory over Vermont.
The men’s team placed fourth overall in their Pre-Conference race. Junior Christopher Buchanan finished sixth overall in the individual competition. Although Buchanan was the only UAlbany runner to finish in the top 10, the men kept a solid group together, resulting in the three, four, five, and six runners finishing within eight seconds of each other.
A year ago, both the men’s and women’s teams finished fourth at the conference championship. Lane finished second overall for the women, and Ethan Clary, a senior last year, finished fourth overall for the men. Aliaksandr Leuchanka, also a senior in 2012, finished 10th individually in the men’s race. With Lane returning and Clary and Leuchanka graduating, the expectations for the men’s team and the women’s team have been altered somewhat, with respect to their performances in 2012 and the particular talents of the 2013 squads.
“This year, the men and women will have different objectives, specific to each team,” said head coach Matt Jones.
The women will look to Lane and teammate Silvia Del Fava to lead them this weekend. Lane has crossed the line first on the team in three of four races this season, and Del Fava was the top UAlbany finisher in the other. In that race, Del Fava recorded the fastest time of the season, which was also the second fastest time ever for 6K in UAlbany history.
“The best the women have finished at the championships meet is third, and the goal this weekend is to improve on that,” said Jones.
The women have already achieved one of the goals Jones had for the team this season. The women earned their first ever Northeast Regional ranking in the final poll of the 2012 season. This year, they were unranked in the preseason and Week 1 polls, but broke into the mix in Week 2 at #15. The women have maintained that position since Week 2, and UAlbany is one of four Northeast ranked teams competing this weekend. The others are #9 Stony Brook, #10 New Hampshire, and #14 Vermont. Stony Brook has won each of the last six women’s championships.
“We’re really looking at three other teams: Stony Brook, New Hampshire, and Vermont. I think New Hampshire has the most depth, and I think we match up best with Stony Brook head-to-head,” Jones said.
UAlbany will face off against Stony Brook and New Hampshire for the first time this season, but they’ve raced Vermont twice already, with each team earning a victory.
“When you throw Vermont into the picture, we’ve beaten them already. But we’ll have to see how their runners break up the others. We’re stronger up front, but if they get a pack in there they can do some damage,” said Jones.
“It’s hard to know what to expect,” Jones continued. “Stony Brook was better up front than New Hampshire in Boston, but New Hampshire improved from that performance when they raced at New England’s. And we feel we match up well with Stony Brook, so it’s difficult to predict.”
Positioning will be important for the Danes this weekend. High individual finishes are important, but even more important is the need to keep everyone close together.
“We expect Lane and Del Fava to be up front. Kathryn Fanning’s performance compared to other teams’ third runners is important. We’re still missing out traditional number four, Jessica Donohue, so that hurts us a bit. What is critical is how the fours and fives place. Really, if we can hold the gap between our first and fifth runner to about a minute we’ll be in good shape,” said Jones.
Coach Jones described a different objective for the men’s team. The men will see the return of their traditional number two, John DeLallo, who was sidelined with an injury for much of the season. Consequently, he’s missed a lot of training, but his return gives the squad a greater sense of cohesion.
“Buchanan should be up front, and we’re hoping DeLallo can give us a small boost,” Jones said. “With the men, we are hoping to finish in the top half in the team competition. We don’t necessarily have the talent up front, but we’re capable of having five to seven guys packed in close together.”
“UMBC and Binghamton are probably the favorites on the men’s side. And Maine has some frontrunners so they could be in the mix too,” added Jones.
America East teams are not required to participate in the Pre-Conference meet, but UAlbany made the trip to get a feel for the season’s championship course. The experience they gained by familiarizing themselves with the course should come in handy on Saturday.
“When we ran here in September it was hot and new and it was our first race,” said Jones. “Whatever the conditions on the course, I think we will be okay. We’ve really improved our fitness since the first meet.”