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Minutemen, Minutewomen finish second, 14th at NE Championships

Massachusetts women’s cross country coach Julie LaFreniere warned her team about the fast course of Franklin Park in Boston, Mass., home of this year’s New England Cross Country Championships. The key to success in the race was simple – get off to a quick start and run hard.

 Freshman Courtney Baldwin made sure to not take her coach’s words for granted. Competing in the first race of her collegiate cross country career, the young freshman from Lowell, Mass., literally sprinted out of the gate, en route to a strong finish.

By the time the race finished on Saturday, Baldwin led UMass to a 14th place overall finish out of 49 schools, and finished 16th overall out of 322 individual runners,  with a time of 18 minutes, 22 seconds. LaFreniere believed it was her new runner’s drive that got her career off to a productive start.

“She competes with a lot of heart and is fearless.” said LaFreniere. “She is going to have a very strong cross country career.”

The Minutewomen coach hopes her team can follow Baldwin’s lead and run with that same competitiveness. If Saturday is any indication, it appears that they will. Co-captain Shiyi Zan finished with a time of 19:14 and junior Lauren Stocker crossed the finish line shortly after with a time of 19:16 to finish 80th and 83rd, respectively. Junior Claire Petit and Gina Perno also made significant contributions, as they rounded out the team’s top five runners.

But the story on Saturday was Baldwin, a newcomer who earned both Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week and Atlantic 10 Performer of the Week honors.

Not to be outdone, the men’s team featured its own peak performer.

Senior Jonathan Pierce had a strong performance, leading UMass to a second-place finish in the New England Cross County Championships. Pierce was the first of three Minutemen to place in the top 15 in a race that featured 47 schools and 320 runners, as he finished at a time of 24:42. One week after Pierce was named UMass Athlete of the Week, he was named the A-10 Performer of the Week. The Minutemen had several runners perform well this weekend. Fellow senior Nicolai Naranjo finished seventh overall with a time of 22:49. Junior David Johnson ran a time of 25:00, which earned him 12th overall.

UMass men’s coach Ken O’Brien was relatively pleased with his team’s performance this past weekend. Though his team fell short of the first-place finish they set out for, he believes that overall, they had a successful weekend, as the Minutemen incorporated new running strategies that may pay dividends in future races.

“We’re at the mid-point of the season, so we want to work hard to prepare for the harder races coming up,” said O’Brien.

Among them is the ISU Pre-Nationals in Terre-Haute, Ind., this Saturday, which is bound to feature at least 30 of the top teams in the country.

Jeffrey Engmann can be reached at jengmann@student.umass.edu.

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