Cross Country Returns To Vermont For America East Championships
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany cross country team will kick off the 2017 postseason on Saturday when they return to Vermont for the America East XC Championships. The team previously competed on the championship course to open the season at the Pre-Conference Meet. The men will run 8K and the women will run 5K.
“Whatever we learned up there in September I hope we do it better now,” said head coach Matt Jones. “I think the real purpose for going there was to see what it was and learn the twists and turns and surfaces of the course. We’re going to do a little recall when we get there, and I have some things I’m going to ask them to try to do to improve on it.”
The season opened on September 2 in Vermont against three America East opponents: UMass Lowell, Binghamton, and host Vermont. The men placed first overall behind Ryan Udvadia’s fourth-place individual finish, and the women placed second as a team behind Águeda Muñoz Marqués’ runner-up finish.
“We had a good Pre-Conference meet,” said Jones. “To date it might have been our best meet. We came back from that meet and went into training, and now we’re at the other end of that but we’re hoping we’re going to be a little bit rested and be able to improve on the performance we had in the first week of September.”
The purpose of the Pre-Conference Meet is to allow the teams in the conference an opportunity to experience first hand the championship course months in advance. After seeing the course, Jones then tweaks his training plan to address what racing the course will require.
“After going the first time I look to adjust some training to the course,” said Jones. “Here on campus we’ve run some workouts on the track, but I actually use a loop over on Washington Avenue on grass that’s a similar surface to what most of the course is at the conference meet. I can’t change what the course is so we try to adapt our training to the course so we can be even more successful than we were the first time.”
While its useful to see how a course runs before a championship meet, there is one significant factor to account for upon returning to a course two months later.
“My concern with a pre and post conference meet is that many times the weather changes,” said Jones. “When the weather changes the surface changes. You can have a beautiful day for Pre-Conference but when you return two months later it might be raining or muddy or cold. It’s a 50/50 deal whether it will be to your advantage or not.”
Last time the Great Danes raced it was on the UAlbany campus for the season’s lone home meet, the 51st Annual UAlbany XC Invitational. Hannah Reinhardt and Udvadia swept the women’s and men’s individual titles. For Udvadia, it was his second consecutive individual title, making him the first Great Dane to repeat as individual champion since Paul Lagno in 2010-11. Udvadia led the men to their second-consecutive team title, while the women placed second behind Sacred Heart. Since then, the team has spent the last two weeks in their final training cycle before the postseason starts.
“Training has gone well,” said Jones. “I think now we’re in recovery from training. I think kids get anxious and stressed from exams, we’ve had some sickness, a few injuries, and we started on trying to clear those up last week.”
Last year, the New Hampshire women narrowly defeated Stony Brook 45-47 to win their fourth-straight team title behind two-time defending champion Elinor Purrier whose 16:27.1 finishing time established a new championship record. Stony Brook swept places 2-4, finishing its first three before everyone except New Hampshire finished one. Purrier returns once again this season with even more accolades under her belt.
“Two weeks ago at Pre-Nationals, Purrier defeated Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer, who won XC nationals last year and also won the 5,000m at indoor and outdoor nationals,” said Jones. “Purrier ran fast and out-kicked her. She might be the best runner in the country, and I think that’s good for our conference. It’s good for our kids to see someone in our conference run at that level. She was second in the mile indoors at NCAAs, she’s been right there in the steeplechase. She’s doing a great job. It’s exciting to see. She’s a talent, and she’s got a pretty solid team behind her. I don’t think we’ve seen New Hampshire at full strength this year. They were pretty solid at Boston, but I think they have more than they showed. That’s another thing that’s exciting about conference, everyone finally pulls it all together.”
After finishing sixth overall last season, the women will look to match or exceed their best-ever finish of second place from two years ago. So far, they have already raced against about half of their competition for Saturday, including New Hampshire.
“We saw a solid UMass Lowell women’s team run well at Pre-Conference, but better at Boston,” said Jones. “Vermont is a team I think we should be in a battle with. They beat us at their meet and we were in their hip pocket at Boston. Stony Brook we saw at Lehigh. I just think that we should be in the middle to the top third. I think the top three are running well, and if they can put their race together I think they can run with anyone’s top three. And then it’s always how well you can close the door.
Stony Brook won the men’s 2016 title, edging runner-up Maine 45-46. UAlbany scored 87 points to place third, their highest finish since winning the program’s only cross country title in 2011. Udvadia and Kyle Gronotaj placed second and fifth, respectively, earning All-Conference honors. Udvadia is the top returning finisher from last season, and will seek to become the first UAlbany men’s individual champion.
“I’ve said all year I feel Ryan and Kyle are as good a one-two punch as anybody in the conference,” said Jones. “The challenge is what we do behind them and how close we can be. And this sport is all about how close you can put in one through five. I think the class of the conference is UMass Lowell on one side and Stony Brook on the other. I think we have to all run well on the same day to have a shot at them. We know Binghamton has a couple of good guys up front, but we don’t know how they’ve developed as a team. Everybody in our conference brings something to the table. Historically, you never know who is going to win the men’s title. I’d like to think it’s our turn. We haven’t won since 2011. I think we’re as talented as we were then, but I also think the conference has gotten tougher.
“Healthy, I think Ryan and Kyle have a solid chance to repeat as All-Conference selections,” Jones continued. “Pre-Conference was a good wakeup call for them, finishing behind some Binghamton guys and a UMass Lowell guy. But, the things that they were defeated on, we’ve worked on and they’ve improved greatly so I don’t think those things will hold. I think they’re in good shape and they’re both ready to go.”
Coach Jones’ final message for the team is simple, and one he preaches throughout the year.
“Do what you’re capable of doing,” said Jones. “Don’t try to be Superman. Don’t try to do something you can’t. Just execute to the level of your ability and your fitness. Stay within your zone. It isn’t just another meet. There’s a little bit more importance. But we just need to execute who we are and we’ll be fine.”
The women’s championship 5K will begin at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 28, followed by the men’s championship 8K at 12:00 p.m. The race can be live streamed on AmericaEast.tv.
“I always get excited about conference championships,” said Jones. “It’s a culminating event of our season before we take it to the next level for regionals. We need to be rested and healthy and execute to our ability and I think we’ll have a successful meet.”