Cross Country Heads to Regionals
ALBANY, N.Y. – Two weeks after America East XC Championships, the University at Albany cross country program continues championship season with a trip to Buffalo for the Northeast Regional Championships. NCAA XC Championship participants are determined through the results of the Regional Championship races.
Last time out, UAlbany returned to UMass Lowell’s home course of Mine Falls Park in Nashua, N.H. for the conference championship meet. The Great Danes had previously competed on the course in September for the America East Pre-Conference Meet. There, juniors Hannah Reinhardt and Victor Ortiz Rivera swept the women’s and men’s individual titles, with Reinhardt setting a new program record for a full 5K as measured by average mile time, leading the women to a program record average finishing time for a full 5K.
On the return trip, the men placed fifth overall behind Ortiz Rivera’s fourth-place individual finish, which earned All-Conference First Team honors. The women, led once again by Reinhardt, won their first-ever America East title, defeating runner-up Stony Brook 46-59. Reinhardt became the first Great Dane, female or male, to win an America East individual cross country title, lowering her own program record in the process by eight seconds in decidedly poorer race conditions.
“We’ve worked on race plans and execution and I thought collectively the women did a great job,” said head coach Matt Jones. “One thing we stressed coming back from Lehigh was running under control rather than out of control. They’re bright kids, and they learned their lesson well. They applied what they learned and I thought we had a great team effort one through seven.”
Reinhardt opened up with Stony Brook’s top runner, Annika Sisson, but started to pull away soon after the mile marker. She became the first UAlbany woman to break 17 minutes in a full 5K, crossing the line in 16:54.8. She defeated Sisson, who finished second, by 23 seconds. The women’s team title snapped New Hampshire’s five-year winning streak.
“Hannah just went out and did her thing,” said Jones. “She lost the second-place runner shortly after the first mile. Cara Sherman was right in the thick of it with the second group. Coming off an injury I don’t think she was a sharp as she could be, so that’s why I think, going forward, she has room to grow. We knew when we evaluated the competition we weren’t sure about Stony Brook, but we knew what Vermont had. And the middle of our pack had to be in the hip pocket of Vermont. That’s exactly what Holly Machabee and Kaylah Quarshie and Kelly Iocca did. They were right where they needed to be, and in the process, Kelly held off four, five, six runners from Stony Brook.
“When it was all over, I don’t think people thought we had won,” Jones continued. “People there still thought either Stony Brook or Vermont had won the race. But I thought it was a tremendous team win for the kids, and I’m hoping that excitement and success continues into Regionals this coming weekend. We’re moving in the right direction. I think we’re pretty consistent. Training has been consistent, and that’s the key. I still want them to be recovered and fresh and be able to concentrate for 6K now.”
The men scored 121 points to take fifth place in the team standings. UMass Lowell snapped Stony Brook’s two-year winning streak, taking the team title by one point. The Riverhawks’ Paul Hogan repeated as men’s individual champion.
“Even though it may not show in the results, I thought the men had a solid effort,” said Jones. “And as we move forward, I think they all believe they can improve. We did some transition work to move from 8K to 10K. I think that works to the advantage of some of our guys. That’s the right place to be. We’re still looking to improve and move forward. I think we’re on the right path to keep improving.”
For the first time this season, the men will increase their race distance to 10K. The women will run 6K for the second time, first doing so at Lehigh’s Paul Short Run.
“The men need to be fresh and they need to concentrate longer,” said Jones. “We can’t be doing a lot of hard stuff this week where they’re tired mentally. They’re going to need to keep their focus for an extra few minutes, which will either make or break the race. We’ve done chunks of work for that pace and for that distance, but the bottom line at this stage is we just need to get recovered, freshened up, and get in the right mindset to race.”
The women’s team currently ranks in 10th in the latest Northeast Regional poll, which matches their all-time high set when they finished 10th in the team standings at regional championships in 2013.
“Always there are two things going on,” said Jones. “There is team success, and individual success. I think we have a couple of women who can be near the front. The way you qualify for NCAA’s, there are two teams from each region who qualify automatically, then potentially other at-large teams, and then the next four individuals. It’s hard to know where you’ve landed. You may need to wait a day or two before you know whether or not you’re advancing. So we know that two teams will qualify, and we’ve run against and close to some of the individuals who have qualified in the past.
“I go into the season with two goals each year,” Jones continued. “I want to finish top three in the conference and, on a good year, finish top-10 in the region. I think the women have a chance to do that.”
For the men, who compete at this added distance for the first and likely only time this season, there are different considerations.
“On the men’s side, Victor, coming off an injury and finishing fourth at conference was a good performance,” said Jones. “I believe Victor will be better, in the right conditions, will be better than he was last time. The rest of the guys will have to hold it together in the meat of the 250-some guys in the race and just try and pick off spots so we can do well as a team.”
The race will be held at Audubon Golf Course in Amherst, N.Y. for the second straight season, serving as somewhat of a homecoming for Reinhardt, who is from the Buffalo area. She also has a chance, based on her results this season, to contend for an individual berth into NCAA XC Championships next week.
“I think Hannah is in good shape to potentially advance,” said Jones. “She’s as mentally prepared as anyone, and it will come down to who can finish the race. I think she has as good a shot as anyone. There’s no Abby D’Agostino or Elinor Purrier in the race this year, and I think she can run with anybody in the race.
“A year ago, our region sent four women’s teams to nationals, so that’s when you get deeper on individual qualifiers,” Jones continued. “This year I don’t think the region is as strong, so it might only be two teams. There will be a group of about eight or 10, and we’re just going to have to hope for the best and be lucky when it all shakes out.”
The women’s 6K starts at 11:00 a.m., followed by the men’s 10K at 12:00 p.m. The women have drawn starting box assignment 21 of 38, and the men have drawn 15 of 37.