UPDATE: XC Championships Moved Up
UPDATE: The start time for the America East XC Championships has been moved up two hours. The men's race will now start at 12:00 p.m., followed by the women's race at 1:00 p.m. The original story follows.
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany cross country program will return to Mine Falls Park in Nashua, N.H. for the America East XC Championships on Saturday. The team last competed Mine Falls Park, the home course of UMass Lowell, for the America East Pre-Conference Meet on September 8.
At the Pre-Conference Meet, Hannah Reinhardt set a new program record for 5K as measured by average mile time in her second individual victory of the season. She led the women’s team to the team title over Binghamton and host UMass Lowell, accumulating a point total of 24. Victor Ortiz Rivera won the men’s 8K race, his second of the season, en route to the men placing third overall behind the Riverhawks and the Bearcats.
Since then, the Great Danes have competed in two races, first at Lehigh University’s Paul Short Run, where the women bumped up in race distance for the day to 6K, and next at UAlbany’s only home meet of the season, the R.K. Munsey UAlbany XC Invitational. In total, the Danes have competed four times leading up to conference championships.
“I think we’ve made progress in our conditioning, and in our home meet in racing,” said head coach Matt Jones. “But every time we go to the line it’s sort of a mystery. I think we’re prepared to do better than we did two weeks ago. Where that will leave us in the conference, I’m not exactly sure. I’m hoping for a positive outcome.”
With championship season finally arriving, Jones’ training plan shifts towards more quality work over quantity, especially during the week preceding the race. The emphasis shifts from building strength and fitness to sharpening the fitness built over the course of the season so far.
“We’re trying to put the finishing touches on our current level of fitness,” said Jones. “One of the themes this week is to not strain when you’re training. When you strain, it takes longer to recover, and we don’t have time to do that this week because we want to put our best foot forward at the conference championship week. We want to still have quality work, but we want to recover from it so we demonstrate it on race day.”
Both teams are rounding into form, and are different than they were during the preseason.
“Three things are occurring,” said Jones. “We have improved our fitness, and we’ve adapted to racing smarter, and we’ve become healthy. All those things together help us look to a better effort at the conference meet. We now want to be healthy and fresh for a quality effort.”
Last season at the America East XC Championships, hosted by Vermont, the men placed third overall, behind Stony Brook and UMass Lowell, and the women placed fifth. Stony Brook’s men won their second-straight team title, while UMass Lowell’s Paul Hogan took the individual title in his junior season. Last year, UMass Lowell placed three runners in the top four, but narrowly lost to Stony Brook on the back end. UAlbany’s Kyle Gronostaj and Ryan Udvadia, both of whom have since exhausted their eligibility, earned All-Conference honors, while Gronostaj took home the men’s Elite 18 Award.
In the women’s race, Elinor Purrier won her third individual America East XC title for New Hampshire, leading the Wildcats to their fifth straight team title. Reinhardt was UAlbany’s top finisher at sixth place overall, and is the fourth-best finisher from last year among those expected to return this season. Both Reinhardt and teammate Cara Sherman, who together placed first and second all three races in which they both competed this season, earned All-Conference honors.
Looking at the results from this season among the expected returners, Jones can piece together an idea of what to possibly expect come Saturday.
“You evaluate cross country in a few different ways,” said Jones. “One is total time, one is average time, and the one that could be critical in our conference is how close your gap is one-to-five and one-to-seven. Both teams have to approach it differently.
“The class of the conference for the men is Stony Brook and UMass Lowell,” Jones continued. “After that, there are seven teams that you could throw in a hat and shake it up. Vermont has a group that’s a bit closer together, and I’d like to think we can compete with them, especially with a quality frontrunner like Victor. It’s harder for me to get a pulse on the other teams in the conference. Three through eight might be a roll of the dice. Having Victor up front could help but when you get spread out up front it comes down to how the masses go head-to-head.”
The considerations are somewhat different for the women’s team, because of who has and has not yet run within the conference.
“I haven’t seen some of the people competing this fall who should have been back for either New Hampshire or Stony Brook,” said Jones. “I think Vermont is running very well. My goal is always to finish in the top three. On paper, the team we could match up best with is Vermont. My best guess, from the results I’ve looked at, I think the teams to beat this season are Vermont and Stony Brook. I think we can compete with either one of them. I’m not sure we’ve seen the best of UMass Lowell or New Hampshire, and they’re always competitive programs. I don’t know if everyone has put all their people on the line at the same time. So we’re going to worry about ourselves and execute our own race plan. Our group of five is ready to run with anyone else’s.”
Looking back at the Danes’ last effort, the UAlbany XC Invitational, the men raced without their frontrunner while the women fielded the fullest squad they have all season, and both teams made positive strides given the specific circumstance with which they were competing that day.
“I thought the men’s group improved, but we still need to do a little bit better,” said Jones. “I was pleased with the effort and the execution at the home meet. We’re teetering back-and-forth between under control and out of control. Our training this week needs to be under control. Our racing needs to start under control and be calculating so we can finish strong. If they do that, their efforts will be better than they were at Paul Short, and they’ll be a little more refined than they were in their first few meets.
“From early on to being banged up, I think we brought more depth to the women’s starting line at the home meet,” Jones continued. “We had five at Paul Short where we struggled a little bit. Then, we had seven at the home meet. And now, even eight, nine, and 10 are coming on as well. It’s becoming more of a team than a collection of individuals. If we keep moving forward we could have a little bit of both.”
Though the teams performed so well on this course earlier this season, it does not necessarily mean they will perform as well on the return trip, if only due to the dramatic difference expected with regard to the weather conditions experienced in meets in the Northeast eight weeks apart.
“History has shown me that many times a pre-conference meet doesn’t give you an edge because of weather change and surface change,” said Jones. “We may know the course a bit but I’m not sure it will run the same way. It happened a year ago. We went to Vermont the first week in September, but by the last week in October I thought it ran completely differently. This course seems solid and runs fairly quickly.”
Both teams have frontrunners. Ortiz Rivera has raced twice and won both times, while Reinhardt and Sherman are proven contenders. For her part, Reinhardt raced four times this season and was named America East Performer of the Week four times. And in the three races Sherman has been active, Reinhardt is the only runner who has beaten her. The determining factor for the team competitions on Saturday will be how closely the men’s and women’s groups can finish together.
“The goal is to have the best race of the season,” said Jones. “Everything we’re doing this week is to allow them to be in a position to accomplish that goal. And once we get through this weekend we’ll regroup and get ready for another one.”
The men's championship 8K will go off at 2:00 p.m. followed by the women's championship 5K at 3:00 p.m.