Cross Country Opens Season at Vermont
ALBANY, N.Y. – The 2018 University at Albany cross country season will kick off this weekend in a three-team season opener at the University of Vermont. It is the first of two-straight weekends of competition after the second meet of the season, at UMass Lowell, was moved up a week.
Last season, the men placed third and the women placed fifth at the America East XC Championships. Four Great Danes, Hannah Reinhardt, Cara Sherman, Kyle Gronostaj, and Ryan Udvadia, earned All-Conference honors, while Gronostaj earned the men’s Elite 18 Award. While Reinhardt and Sherman return this year, both Gronostaj and Udvadia have exhausted their cross country eligibility.
“The men have been hit pretty hard by graduation,” said head coach Matt Jones. “Losing Udvadia, Gronostaj, Keith Machabee, and Tyler Ranke, who are all out of cross country eligibility is a lot. We finished third in the conference with that group. I think it will be a challenge for the returning group to duplicate that result. That being said, our goal is always to finish in the top third of the conference, so we’re still trying to do that. We’re not as deep as we’ve been, but I think we’re talented enough to, if everything goes our way, be in the top three.”
Gronostaj and Udvadia went on to place 20th and 26th, respectively, at the NCAA Northeast Regional Championship last season, and were the top-two finishers in the UAlbany XC Invitiational, representing the two fastest men’s times on the current home course. They departed the program having rewritten the XC record books. Udvadia ranks second all-time for 8K at 24:14.50, while Gronostaj ranks ninth with a best time of 24:33.40. Gronostaj also has a top-10 all-time mark for 10K, ranking eighth in 31:46.90, while Udvadia ranks 24th at the distance in 32:33.60.
Reinhardt and Sherman return after making tremendous strides during the indoor and outdoor track seasons. Indoors, Sherman set the school record in the 3,000m in 9:33.18. Outdoors, Reinhardt set the school record in the same event in 9:35.43. Both advanced to the NCAA East Preliminary Championship, where Reinhardt competed in the 5,000m and Sherman competed in the 10,000m.
“The women finished fifth a year ago,” said Jones. “I think that this year’s group is going to be closer together. We still have both Reinhardt and Sherman up front, and even though we lost Colleen Maloney, I think we have a better opportunity to be closer together with some of the newcomers and some of the experience sophomores. I think that could lead to a higher finish in the conference. The goals haven’t changed, but the players have. A lot of it depends upon development during the season.”
The schedule this year saw a last-minute change with the shifting of the Pre-Conference Meet at UMass Lowell. Instead of two-week training blocks between each meet until Regionals, the first two meets will take place in back-to-back weekends before a three-week break before the Paul Short Run at Lehigh University. Last year’s schedule also featured a three-week gap, but after the first meet instead of after the second.
“Our schedule is broken up a little bit differently,” said Jones. “We’re using the first three weeks as a pre-conditioning adaptation period. Then, when we have some time off from racing, we’re really going to focus on improving our fitness, changing our training intensities, and be ready to go as we get ready to enter October. We want to be a little bit more competitive for the last two-thirds of the season.”
The landscape of the America East will see a potential dramatic shift, particulary in the women’s field. New Hampshire standout Elinor Purrier, who has won three of the last four America East XC individual titles (she did not compete in 2015), has graduated. Purrier, a 16-time America East Champion and 10-time All-American, was one of the best distance runners in the country, and headlined a deep New Hampshire squad that has won the last five straight team titles.
“The sport of cross country is really not about one,” said Jones. “It’s about five. You always talk about protecting the back end. Even with Purrier gone, Shannon Murdock was second in the conference right behind her. So if she moves up into that one spot, not much changes. New Hampshire still has the depth they’ve always had. Stony Brook is traditionally strong. I think on paper UMass Lowell is the best returning team. They lost only one. New Hampshire and Stony Brook have lost several.
“Up front on the men’s side will still be a battle between Stony Brook and UMass Lowell, and it’s up for grabs,” Jones continued. “We were third last year, and I think fourth was pretty distant. We were hit hard, but that doesn’t mean that with some growth and some different roles being filled that we couldn’t do that again. In our conference a lot of teams have one or two. A lot depends on who can bunch it together and close the door. Last year, UMass Lowell’s men were winning up front but Stony Brook won on the back end to take the title.”
The top returner on the men’s team is Victor Ortiz Rivera, who will step into a headlining role following the departure of Gronostaj and Udvadia. The men’s team also only features one newcomer this season to replenish the ranks, while the women’s team saw a greater influx of new blood.
“John Messler is the only newcomer to our men’s program, and he’s a nice addition from SUNY Delhi,” said Jones. “Kelly Iocca and Noreen Guilfoyle, with adapting to more mileage and more specific in the workouts can contribute to the women’s top five. Samantha Rutt is very talented, and if she makes the transition from 800/1,500 to 5K can be a major player, but that may take more than one season.”
Before the Great Danes can start to think about where they might place among their America East rivals, they need to undergo Jones’ training regimen so they are prepared to compete when the time comes. For now, that primarily means building a base and finding a routine to balance the training and the start of the semester.
“Right now we want to get into our training routine,” said Jones. “It involves an increase in mileage and adaptation to doing drills. Also, it involves strength training and becoming familiar with a couple of quality courses in the first few weeks. Hopefully, if we’re into the routine and healthy, we can begin quality training when we get that three-week break before we go to Lehigh. I think getting back into our routine is going to be critical.”
Coach Jones has elected to return to Vermont’s course to open 2018. It is the same course they opened 2017 when Vermont hosted the America East XC Championships. Returning to a familiar course to start the season allows Jones to compare starting points for each returning student-athlete year-over-year. Next week, the team will get their chance to experience the 2018 America East championship course for the first time at the 2018 Pre-Conference meet.
“UMass Lowell’s home course is a high school course in New Hampshire, and I think they made it just for the championship this year, so it’s new for everybody,” said Jones. “We’re going back to Vermont where we opened last year. We’ll compare from a year ago to see what progress we’ve made in a year, and use that as a jumping off point for things to come down the road. You can’t rush the process. Our test effort was a place to establish our baseline. It gives me better information to design quality training. We have plenty to work on, but we’re in no rush to get there. The number one goal is keeping as many people healthy as we can without jeopardizing someone’s fitness or safety.”
The Vermont Season opener featuring the Catamounts, the Great Danes, and UMass Lowell, is scheduled to begin at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 1.