Cross Country Returns To Action In Boston
ALBANY, N.Y. – Three weeks have passed since the University at Albany cross country program last competed. That drought will end this week when the Great Danes take a trip to Boston to compete at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown on Friday.
“We’ve had three solid weeks of training,” said head coach Matt Jones. “Going into the pre-conference meet gave us a baseline on where our fitness was, and we’ve used that information to try to move our fitness forward. Training is going well, and I think we’re ahead of where we’ve been in the past. We’re curious to see where we are this weekend, and we’ll move forward from there.”
The extended break between competition is not something new for the program. Coach Jones traditionally sets up the schedule so that there are two weeks between each race during the cross country season. This allows for a full two-week training cycle to address any concerns from the latest meet and continue progressing before the next meet.
“We took the three weeks based on previous information,” said Jones. “We’ve seen that we’re not completely where we want to be coming in the door, and instead of rushing to get ready, let’s take our time and execute our goals on getting fit, getting through a quality cycle, and recover a bit. We’ll evaluate our fitness a little bit later rather than earlier. Like anything there’s trial and error. Find what works and keep it, find what doesn’t work and throw it out. I’m hoping getting back into school, into a routine, and not traveling as soon as classes start pay dividends.”
At the pre-conference meet to start the season, the men placed first and the women placed second, each competing in fields of four teams. It was the first test for the program, and was enhanced by competing head-to-head against the same teams UAlbany will see at the America East championship meet in October. Using the results from the first meet, Coach Jones is able to devise a plan to continue the men’s and women’s progression through the season.
“We know, for example, the men’s defending conference champion finished their top five within 33 seconds of one another,” said Coach Jones. “At the pre-conference meet, we had a gap of 48 seconds. If our front guys can run with the front of the pack, which I think they can, we’re still not compact enough to win a championship. And those are things we look at when we compare ourselves to other teams. You look at total time, gap from one to five and one to seven, and also dual meet scores with another team you’re considering. I think we’re going to be strong up front, but the key is protecting your back end. Four through seven are critical. Everyone is important, everyone is a stakeholder in the success of the program. Those are the things we will look at as we go forward.
“We’ve worked on certain aspects of our race to improve,” Jones continued. “We want to get off the line and be in position to compete, but we still want to be able to close strong again. The extra week of training has allowed us to conduct some simulations to work on that and hopefully recover enough to race.”
The women placed three in the top 10 and four in the top 12 at the pre-conference meet. The men placed four in the top 10, including sweeping spots four through six, and five in the top 12. However, only three other schools were competing in the race. Conference championships will feature all nine America East schools, and this weekend the Great Danes will find themselves in a field approaching 20 teams.
“I think on both sides we have three quality people up front,” said Jones. “But cross country scores five and displaces seven so we also need to develop our back end so we can be stronger as a team. We’re working on both individual and team development. This is a good meet for that.”
The Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown will be hosted at Boston’s Franklin Park by Boston College. Although the course is a prominent one in the Northeast cross country scene, UAlbany has not competed there since the 2015 season.
“We haven’t visited Franklin Park in a few years so it will need to be a quick study,” said Jones. “There’s a hill in it, different from pre-conference where there was no hill. But we’ve done our hill work so that’s okay. There can be some narrow twists and turns in the course, but it’s the same for everyone. It’s a good spectator course. The race comes by several times and you can see a strong finish. I think it’s a fair course, and part of the reason to go there, even a week later, is because I think Van Cortlandt more difficult. Therefore this may be an easier recovery especially since we’ll be going to Lehigh in a week. I don’t think Franklin Park requires as long a recovery as Van Cortlandt.”
Twenty-three total teams will compete on Friday, though five are only bringing women’s teams. In addition to UAlbany, the America East will see representation from Maine, UMass Lowell, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Of the teams competing, including the Danes, 10 men’s teams hold top-15 regional rankings, including Illinois (#3 Midwest), Indiana (#2 Great Lakes), and Syracuse (#1 Northeast). For the women, 16 teams are regionally ranked, including Indiana (#3 Great Lakes), Georgetown (#3 Mid-Atlantic), Providence (#1 Northeast), and Syracuse (#3 Northeast). The UAlbany men rank #13 in the Northeast, and the women rank #15.
“Three weeks is a long time to go without a meet,” said Jones. “Even though training has gone well it’s time to get the measuring stick out and se where we are. We pretty much know the traditional East powers are going to be there, as well as some conference teams. For those, if they didn’t run at full strength at the pre-conference meet, we may now see them at full strength once we get out there this weekend. I don’t think this meet is as big as it’s been in the past, but it’s the right size for us right now.”
With only one meet so far this season, the team continues to navigate the development phase of the season, working to improve individually and collectively to peak at the right time during championship season. The meet this weekend is the next step in that process.
“This weekend, I want the runners to work on developing their race plan,” said Jones. “We talk about the one-third rule. Get off the line and set yourself up the first third of the race, get into that solid, competitive rhythm in that middle third, and close hard and strong and fast in the last third. That’s what we want to execute as we move forward.”
The women will race a 5K at 3:00 p.m. on Friday. The men will follow with an 8K at 3:30 p.m. The meet will conclude with a combined men’s and women’s 5K at 4:15 p.m.