Cross Country Hosts 52nd Annual Invitiational
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany cross country program will host its lone home event on Friday, October 12 with the 52nd Annual UAlbany XC Invitiational. The meet has been renamed for the program founder, R.K. Munsey, whose name formerly adorned the men’s championship 8K race. The men's race will now be named for Dr. Kevin Williams, who was UAlbany's head cross country coach from 1994-2001.
“Munsey recruited me,” said head coach Matt Jones. “He helped me go to another school first and told me if it didn’t work out to come back. I’ve always had a great deal of respect for him. He was always a good guy, he always liked to talk training, and was a guy you wanted to be around. He started the program here and in a lot of ways the program reflects his character. Take whatever you have and do the best you can with it.
“Dr. Williams is another great guy,” Jones continued. “We go way back as well. Our kids are about the same age, ran track and played soccer about the same time. He was a great runner for Plattsburgh State. I know the family and I know him, and it’s nice the race is being named after him.”
The last time the Great Danes competed was at Lehigh University’s Paul Short Invitational. Both teams were shorthanded during their races, with the women missing their number-two runner Cara Sherman, and the men missing their top runner Victor Ortiz Rivera. Both teams competed in the highest-tier Gold Division, and the women raced at 6K for the first time this season.
Hannah Reinhardt placed sixth overall in a personal-best time of 20:39.7, moving into third place in program history at 6K. Reinhardt had won her two previous races, including setting the program record for 5K by average mile time at the America East Pre-Conference Meet three weeks prior.
“I thought Hannah did a great job,” said Jones. “She got off the line in good position. At the mile mark she was with a group of four and in position to do whatever she needed to. For that day, where she was, that was an excellent effort, but I think we still learned a few things that we have to work on. I think she established herself as one of the best runners in our region and I think she gained tremendous confidence by being able to do that. This sport is not only being talented and working hard but also believing that you can get it done, and I think that’s the growth we took at Lehigh.”
Reinhardt held her own against some of the toughest competitors she will see again at Regional Championships in a month.
“Hannah is in a good spot looking forward,” said Jones. “We still have our home meet and conference championships before we get to regionals, and all of those will be part of the development. But if you look at the results of who Hannah finished with at Lehigh, they were some of the best runners in their respective regions and in some cases in the country a year ago. I was very happy with the performance, and if we keep it moving forward I think the result will be positive.”
Behind Reinhardt, the women faced a larger finishing gap than they had so far this season. The Paul Short Run is one of the biggest meets in the country during the cross country season with race fields numbering around 40 teams and 400 competitors.
“The women got caught up in the numbers game,” said Jones. “Our first two meets were meets of three, so you’re looking at 20-30 people. Then we go to a meet with more than 40 teams, and up to 400 people in the race. I think that was the game-changer. I think the effort was there, but I don’t think we got the end performance we were looking for, but it was a tremendous learning experience. We made some mistakes but the kids really gave a good effort. They were solid the first mile, maybe a little fast for some of them and they paid the price on the back end, but we need to learn from that.”
The men’s team, missing Ortiz Rivera as their front-runner, faced some of the same issues as the women’s team did behind Reinhardt. Junior Charlie Ragone paced the Great Danes, missing his personal-best 8K by just 10 seconds, set at last year’s Paul Short Run, to finish in 25:32.0 in 88th place.
“I still don’t like the gap with the men’s team,” said Jones. “Charlie was about where he could have been. My evaluation of the whole day was the muddy surface and the humidity cost everyone. Some of the guys ran okay, but like the women I think the traffic got to them a bit. Our gap 1-5 is still too much. We need to do a better job of that, and we did in previous meets.”
Looking towards this week, the meet for the first time will be held on a Friday instead of the traditional Saturday.
“Racing on Friday does change the training week, but not by much,” said Jones. “We’re really only having one quality day of training, and then we’re going to use the meet as our next quality day of training. It will mark the beginning of training for the championship season. What happens now is we start moving towards more quality training instead of volume training. But it’s always a work in progress. I think we’re getting healthy, and now that we’re into the routine and we’ve hopefully gotten the bumps and bruises out of the way we can move the whole program forward. That’s the goal.”
The men’s team is defending champion after sweeping the top two individual finishes last season with Ryan Udvadia and Kyle Gronostaj, while Reinhardt is the defending individual women’s champion. Reinhardt has the chance to become the first repeat women’s champion since Dartmouth’s Dorcus DenHartog in 1984-85.
“I’m excited about the home meet because I think we will be able to identify our competition more clearly,” said Jones. “I use a basketball analogy, especially for the men, telling the runners how we need to mark up man-to-man. We need to mark our competition, identify it early, and race it. When you lose your competition in the crowd, you lose your focus a little bit. The size of the fields at the home meet will be similar to the size of the conference championship field, which will help prepare for that meet. But the main theme is to close the gap on both sides. The key to this sport is total time, average time, and gap one-to-seven. The objective is to improve on that this week. It may be a low-key meet, but it’s a tremendous opportunity to prepare for what’s to come.”
2018 marks the sixth season the Great Danes have utilized their latest home course. Since it’s inception, the course record has been set three times for the women and five times for the men. And after five years of results on the course, the coaching staff has a clearer idea of how runners can expect to perform on it, as well as the benefits it offers a spectator.
“In a lot of ways, our course changes with the weather,” said Jones. “If it’s wet the course can be slow. But I like that it’s spectator-friendly and I like that we finish in the stadium. I don’t know of any other cross country course that does that. It’s a great spectator course, and I think it’s a fair course. I don’t know that it’s always fast, but I think it’s fair.”
The home meet fills a unique spot on the schedule as the last event before the America East XC Championships in two weeks, and the last effort for the student-athletes before championship season, and training, begin.
“The last meet before conference championships is just another opportunity to see where we are,” said Jones. “I believe seasons, and years, are all part of the process. We evaluated things at Paul Short. We evaluate things at practice. I’m looking for some progress. We need to become more consistent with roles on our team. I think we’re ready to do that. We’re fit enough to do that and now we need to start engaging the mental and visual piece.
The focus for Jones this weekend is to have his runners start to put the pieces of their training together.
“I want them to get off the line and get in position, and then I just want them to have a good race,” said Jones. “I’m trying to take the anxiety aspect out of play, so I’m not going to tell them to beat anyone. If they have a solid effort it’ll be a good day.”