Cross Country Returns to Van Cortlandt for Regionals

Championship Central

ALBANY, N.Y. – With the season starting to wind down, the University at Albany men’s and women’s cross country teams set their sights on the Northeast Regional Championships on Friday, November 15.  The teams will return to famed Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y. to compete against the top competition in the Northeast region, with regional rankings and national championship berths on the line.  The men will run their first 10K of the season at 11:45 a.m., and the women will follow with a 6K at 1:00 p.m.  Both teams will start the race in box 30, between Fordham in box 29 and Boston College in box 31.

The men’s race features 383 runners from 39 Northeast squads.  UAlbany has brought a squad of seven to compete in the race.  The team is once again without traditional number two runner John DeLallo, as well as middle runners Andrew Pirnie and Raymond Farinella.

“Our men’s squad consists of our true distance runners.  Our guys who are primarily middle-distance track guys aren’t running this weekend,” said head coach Matt Jones.

Part of the reason for the roster shake-up is because of the increase in distance of the course.

“The 10K is really a different animal than the 8K.  We’re looking to see how our guys run the longer distance, see where they are in the pack, and see if each of them can run a nice 10K,” said Jones.

Although UAlbany has raced at this venue already, the course on Friday will be different than what the Danes experienced at Iona’s Meet of Champions in September.  But the team scouted the courses for this weekend as part of their cool down after the Iona race, so they aren't going in totally blind.

“When you run at Van Cortlandt there are two terms you hear: Cemetery Hill and the Back Hills.  The men usually run both, like they did at the Iona meet. But they will run neither this time.  Instead, the course has been altered to be flatter and faster, so there are more loops on the lower fields.  The idea is to beat the runners up too much with the national meet only eight days away,” said Jones.

Unlike the men, who have run 8K at each race this season before bumping up to 10K, the women have run three of their five races at 6K, so the distance won’t be as much of a transition. 

“The women ran 6K at Iona, but like the men’s race the women’s course is different this time around,” said Jones.  “The women normally run the Back Hills, but won’t be doing so at this meet.”

The women’s race fields 370 athletes from 40 squads.  UAlbany has brought seven athletes for the competition, but will again be without traditional number four runner Jessica Donohue, who has been sidelined for most of the season with an injury.  The women have already raced a number of the teams they will face on Friday at various points throughout the season, and have earned a handful of head-to-head victories over Northeast ranked teams.

One year ago at this meet, Brittney Lane set a UAlbany record for 6K with a time of 20:24.2.  Lane missed qualifying for nationals by one place.  The team finished 14th overall, earning the highest Northeast ranking in UAlbany history.  Since Week 2 this season, the Danes have held steady at 15 in the Northeast.

“Our goal for the women is to improve on the result from a year ago,” said Jones.  “If each of the girls runs their race, I think we have a chance to finish in the top 10.”

Beyond the team goals Coach Jones has set forth for the women, there are individual considerations in play as well.  Lane and her teammate, Silvia Del Fava, are in play for individual berths into the national championship meet. 

“For Brittney and Silvia, and really for the whole team, we’re going to discuss who they need to look for during the race so they can run the way they want to, so they have the best chance to run their best race, and to hopefully qualify for nationals,” said Jones.

The top five teams from each regional championship qualify for nationals, as well as the top four individual runners outside the top five teams.  Additionally, a committee will decide Sunday evening on any at-large individual bids.  Lane was the fifth individual a year ago, and did not earn an at-large bid.

“The Northeast is so strong this year there is a chance an additional team could qualify, so that would push more athletes out of the way of the individual qualifiers,” said Jones.  “We may even see a fifth individual qualify, because the quality of the Northeast is so high this year.”

Columbia is the top-ranked team on the men’s side, from the most recent iteration of the poll released on November 4.  Columbia is also ranked eighth in the latest national poll.  The 15 ranked men’s teams feature two teams from the America East, #14 Binghamton and #15 Stony Brook.  Providence holds the top spot for the women, as well as the second spot in the national rankings.  UAlbany shares representation in the poll with three other America East squads, # 9 New Hampshire, # 10 Stony Brook, and #14 Vermont.

The size of the competition field will not be a surprise for UAlbany, as they experienced running in a large field earlier this season at Lehigh’s Paul Short Invitational.

“The high number of runners won’t be too critical for the men I don’t think,” said Jones.  “The way the course is set up, there is more room to maneuver because of all the loops on the lower fields.  The women, however, will really need to get off the line, identify their competition, and be ready to race by the time the course narrows as they head into the woods about a mile and a quarter from the start.”

This weekend represents the last cross country race for many of the UAlbany athletes.  Coach Jones has used that to focus his teams for the task at hand.

“Our training since conference championships has been really good.  We’re more rested, and I think we’ll be sharp this weekend,” said Jones.

“Maybe we weren’t fully rested for the conference championship, but there are no excuses this time.  Now is the time to get it done, or the season is over.”

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