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Minutemen place 8th at Paul Short Invitational

With the lowest spread between runners’ finishing times at the tournament, the Massachusetts men’s cross country team placed eighth at last weekend’s 36th annual Paul Short Run.

The Run – a regional convergence of high school and collegiate runners – took place in Bethlehem, Penn.

A top-five runner last season for the Minutemen, senior Jonathan Pierce (24:27), improved by 26 seconds from his pace last year. His time placed him at 37th out of the 386 collegiate men’s gold division 8K runners.

UMass Athletics named Pierce UMass Athlete of the Week on Monday for his performance.

Indiana University took first place in men’s gold at the Run, with nationally ranked Iona College (No. 7) and North Carolina State rounding out the top three.

No other team, however, had a smaller spread among its runners’ times than Massachusetts’ 25 seconds. Indiana and Iona both were within sight in that category, but the rest of the top 10 finishers – as well as the field – had wider margins.

“We went out to try and get ourselves a good assessment on where we stood in the regional picture, and we were at the top edge of where we hoped to be,” said UMass men’s coach Ken O’Brien.

Junior Kevin Johnson (24 minutes, 30 seconds) also earned points for UMass at the 2008 Paul Short Run, with senior Andrew McCann (24:45) making his third straight top-five finish.

These three repeat finishers created a training program this offseason and were very faithful to it.

“They didn’t take any shortcuts,” said O’Brien.

Also finishing in the Minutemen’s top five were juniors Sean Duncan (24:39) and Daniel Barry (24:52), who each placed for the first time this season. Barry, however, finished second on the team in the 2007 Paul Short Run, running his best time of that season (25:23).

After two weeks of small races, the Short run allowed the team to “really break the ice” for their full-length schedule, O’Brien noted.

“It gives you a chance to shake the rust off of a four-mouth layoff,” said O’Brien.
“Then, when you put yourselves on the line against 350-400 athletes, it is ten times harder than what you’ve competed against thus far.”

“We needed this to get juiced up for bigger meets later on in the year.” The coach said the team has improvements to make, but “we’re standing in a good place, we kept our enthusiasm high and we’re going to get that work done,” he remarked.

The women’s team, which finished 36th on the day, was led by Claire Pettit’s 6K time of 22:11. The sophomore Pettit improved on her point-earning Paul Short Run last year by 29 seconds, finishing 124th out of 363 runners.

Sophomore Karen Roa (22:26), as well as juniors Gina Perno (22:41) and Elizabeth Fisk (23:30), also finished amongst the Minutewomen’s top-seven for a second straight year.

Rounding out the point-earners were sophomores Lauren Stocker (22:35) and Jennifer Harkey (23:43 Massachusetts) as well as freshman Danielle Allocco (23:30), who scored the first points of her Minutewomen career.

West Virginia University won the women’s side, with University of Guelph and Indiana University following.

The teams travel next to the New England Championship at Boston’s Franklin Park, the site of this year’s NCAA regional qualifying race in November.

The upcoming Oct. 10 race will be, according to O’Brien, “a look at the course as much as it is a look at ourselves.”

“Our goal is go down to Boston and finish in a higher spot,” said O’Brien. “We’re looking for a top five or top four finish. Certainly there will be good runners but not as many [as on the Short Run].”

“This is kind of [an opportunity] to catch our breath a little bit.”

Daniel Herberholz can be reached at danielherberholz@gmail.com.

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