Cross Country Hosts 51st Annual XC Invitational
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany cross country program, two weeks after their last meet, will host the lone home meet of the 2017 season on Saturday, the 51st Annual UAlbany XC Invitational.
The last time the Great Danes raced was at Lehigh University for the Paul Short Run. There, the women ran their first 6K of the season, having run 5K in each of their first two meets. UAlbany ran at Paul Short on just one week rest, but have had a regular two-week training cycle preceding this weekend’s home invitational.
“We’ve worked hard since Paul Short,” said head coach Matt Jones. “I think we’ve improved our fitness, but along with improving fitness you need to be recovered both physically as well as mentally. We need to finish the process before we got to the line on Saturday. We’ve done some good work, we’ve had some quality sessions, have a few bumps and bruises, and some distractions with midterms, so we have to get organized, focused, and start preparing for the postseason.”
Both the men and the women competed in the highest tier Gold race at Paul Short, featuring the top teams in the meet. Headlined by frontrunners Hannah Reinhardt and Ryan Udvadia, most of the UAlbany student-athletes who raced that day set either season or personal best marks. Reinhardt became just the fourth woman to break the 21-minute barrier in program history, earning a personal-best of nearly two and a half minutes. And Udvadia ran the second fastest time in program history for the men, dropping his time by a total of nearly 30 seconds in the last two meets.
“I think that we had a great effort across the board,” said Jones. “A lot of other teams still ran well. I think it was a good day to run well. Both groups improved from previous years. I think it shows that we weren’t fully recovered seven days earlier, so we did some training and some recovery to be ready for Paul Short. We had a good meet there and I think it was a good springboard for the work that we did the week after. We’re still trying to keep it moving forward but we have to change some things this week to be recovered to run fast on Saturday.”
Last season at the home invitational, both the men and the women claimed the team titles. The men scored a near-perfect 18 points, the fourth-best team performance in meet history, to claim victory well clear of runner-up Manhattan’s 55 points. Udvadia took the individual title, crossing the line in a new record for the now four-year-old course. Udvadia looks to become the first repeat individual champion since UAlbany’s own Paul Lagno in 2010-11.
The women scored 62 points in a much more narrowly contested team finish, outpacing runner-up Siena’s 65 points. The women’s individual champion was Susan Ejore from Monroe College, who set a new course record of 16:59.6, becoming just the third individual champion to break the 17-minute barrier at the meet. The Great Danes were paced by Cara Sherman, who placed fourth overall in 17:51.4.
Considering last year’s performance at this meet and last week’s performance at Lehigh, Coach Jones has a clear goal in mind for both the men and the women.
“We’re looking to improve on the game from one to five, one to seven, and one to 10,” said Jones. “That’s the key to cross country. It isn’t one or two. You can still win the race and still lose as a team. That’s the beauty of the sport, individual success and team success. We have some improving to do, and we’ve had a revolving door with who some of those people might be who need to develop some consistency, but I believe the potential is there.”
The course the student-athletes will race on will host its fourth-ever meet, debuting in the 2014 season. For the second consecutive year, each race will finish in Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.
“I think it’s a fair course, and I think it’s a tremendous spectator-friendly course,” said Jones. “You can see the kids running on the different loops, they finish in the stadium, and you can see the start across the field and loop around, there are a lot of good things. I like our course, and I like to compare the year-to-year results to check the progress of the team.
“The course isn’t flat and fast, nor is it particularly hilly,” Jones continued. “We have varied surfaces and some inclines and switchbacks, which may slow it down a little bit, but I think what you look for is a reasonable time as it relates to other courses and a fair competition. I think we’ve accomplished that.”
For as well as training has been going since Paul Short, Coach Jones feels there is one area in which his team can still make strides.
“I want our teams to run more as a team,” said Jones. “I think that we’re talented, whether it’s Ryan, Kyle, and Victor or Hannah, Cara, and Agueda up front, but the key to success will be how close we can bring the group together. I’m not asking the frontrunners to slow down but the back end to move up. I’m happy where we are up front with both teams. Our challenge is bringing the back end along. That’s what we’re going to work on in this meet. It’s always great to win your home meet, but it’s still all part of our developmental process for the postseason.”
The finishing gap is an area Coach Jones has stressed all year long. Through the first three meets the women have had top-five finishing time gaps of 55, 64, and 95 seconds, and the men, 48, 80, and 67 seconds.
“I’d like to see the teams improve on the one-to-five gap from where it was at Paul Short,” said Jones. “For us to be competitive, we need to close that gap. If we get in the hunt and can identify our competition, that’s how we have to roll. The women ran well for four places last time out. If we can get five and six and seven close, it changes the whole dynamic. We’re only nine deep with the women, but we have enough to get the job done. The goal this week is to compress one through five.
Since this week is the final meet before the championship season begins, starting with the America East XC Championships in two weeks, Coach Jones will use this meet’s results to formulate the final push before championship season begins.
“I will look to see if they get tired early, and I’ll look at how they race and if it’s not exactly what they need then we’ll adjust that in the next two weeks,” said Jones. “Bottom line is I will spend most of the meet looking at how they look, and adjust the training to meet their needs. I always ask them to critique their race with the simple guidelines of what went right, what when wrong, and how can it be done better. Any time our student-athletes go through that exercise they’re spot on. They know what they need to correct. They can feel it. Going through the exercise is the self-coaching aspect, and they do a pretty good job. They’re smart kids.”
The meet will begin at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 14 with the Jason DeJoy Alumni/Open 5K. The women’s Bobbi Palma Championship 5K will follow at 12:45 p.m., and the meet will conclude with the men’s R.K. Munsey Championship 8K at 1:30 p.m. Following the conclusion of the meet, the track & field and cross country program will host its third inauguration dinner ceremony for the most recent Wall of Fame Class, including a celebratory championship ring ceremony for the Class of 2017.