Cross Country Opens Season At Vermont
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany men’s and women’s cross country program will visit the University of Vermont on Saturday to open the 2017 season at the America East Pre-Conference Meet. The meet serves as a dry run on this year’s championship course, to provide the teams in the conference the chance to familiarize themselves with it before championships in November.
“I’m excited for the meet, and I’m excited for the season because I think there is some potential there to get some good things done,” said head coach Matt Jones. “It’s going to be exciting to see how everything shakes out.
By returning to the Pre-Conference meet for the first time since 2013, the Great Danes buck a short-lived tradition of beginning the season at Colgate’s Harry Lang Invitational, which they had done for the last two years. Colgate’s season-opening course fell on the shorter end of the spectrum, spanning 6,400m for the men and 4,800m for the women. The Pre-Conference course will run the full 8,000m for men and 5,000m for women, mirroring the championship meet.
“We enjoyed Colgate,” said Jones. “We went there for a few years. Vermont is a four-team meet, with just teams from our conference. I think it will be a good baseline effort for our program. We’re going to go up there and find out where we are as a team, and then come back and train for three weeks. That is sort of by design.”
Traditionally, Coach Jones takes two weeks between meets to allow for quality recovery and training, and to keep the team fresh through the duration of the season.
“I like the two-week training schedule, but I figured we’d take an additional week this year to get fit,” said Jones. “After that we will go two weeks back-to-back, but I like the course at Franklin Park, and Lehigh is a traditional meet where we see a lot of different teams throughout the country and see where we stack up and what we have to work on. Neither one of those courses will beat us up too much, and they meet our needs down the road.”
Last season, the men’s team outperformed expectations placing third overall at the America East XC Championships behind top-five performances from Ryan Udvadia and Kyle Gronostaj, both of whom return to lead the men’s team this season. 2016’s result marked a five-place improvement for the men, who finished eighth overall in 2015.
“Vermont is a new course,” said Jones. “The primary reason we’re going to the meet is to gather intel for the conference meet. As I look at conference from a year ago, I think both teams can improve. The guys placed third a year ago, and we have two returning from that team who are school record holders in the 5,000m and 10,000m. They should be near the front of the conference. And we have some newcomers and returners that we feel we’ll have a solid team.
“I know the dynamic of the conference,” Jones continued. “UMass Lowell is going to be loaded. Binghamton is going to be loaded. Stony Brook won the championship last year with a team of freshmen and sophomores. The conference just got tougher.”
The women placed sixth at last year’s conference championships, dropping back four places from their surprising second place finish in 2015. The women will contend with the loss of one of their top two runners from last season, Hannah Smith, but return a core of potential frontrunners in Cara Sherman and Hannah Reinhardt.
“For the women, we’re not a team quite yet, but I think we can develop into one,” said Jones. “We have a couple of young returners who have had good years, and now that they’re healthy we can continue to develop throughout the season. Vermont and UMass Lowell and New Hampshire should all be good, and those are the teams the women will have to see how they compare to. There’s a lot of information we don’t have yet, but we have some good individuals that just need to come together as a team.”
The men find themselves in a position where they have no holes to fill due to graduating seniors, as there were no seniors on the team last year. Besides Smith, the women have to replace one other senior, Schuyler Pruyn, who ran in the middle of the pack last season.
“We’re working for the end in mind, rather than the beginning,” said Jones. “The focus is to be there at the end, to be at the top of our game at the end of October and the beginning of November.”
Looking ahead to the remaining schedule, there are traditional destinations like Paul Short, but noticeably absent is Van Cortlandt Park, which will not feature in a postseason meet this year.
“Van Cortlandt is a tougher course, and if the regional were there we would probably return,” said Jones. “It’s my understanding that the regional course this year is kind of flat, so we don’t need to prepare for the type of work Van Cortlandt would require. You also consider the health of the program. I think some of those harder courses can beat you up, so if we don’t need to do that we won’t. Our schedule for regionals and conference, in many ways, dictates the rest of the schedule. Basically, everything is preparation for the postseason.
After this weekend, the Great Danes will not compete again until September 22.
The Pre-Conference meet is scheduled to begin at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 2.
“I don’t want them to go out so hard this weekend that they’re struggling at the end,” said Jones. “I would rather see them finish strong and under control. And while they’re out there, they need to make mental notes of the course. ‘Here’s how I’m doing it today, how can I do it better the next time?’. That’s the same of every competition. Everything is a work in progress.”