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UMass men’s cross country takes ninth place as season comes to a close

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian File Photo

The Massachusetts men’s cross country team capped off its season in Bronx, N.Y., after a ninth place finish at the IC4A Championships on Saturday.

After failing to qualify for the NCAA Championships last weekend due to a 20th place finish at the NCAA Regionals, some of the team’s less experienced athletes had a chance to take the trip down to New York for the five-mile meet.

The team placed ninth overall in a field 20 and were led by junior Richard Racz, who placed 18th out of 186 total runners with a time of 26:29.5.

Given the way the underclassmen have headlined UMass’ success all season, it came as little surprise that Racz was the only upperclassman to finish in the Minutemen’s top five.

Freshmen John Burns finished 23rd overall in the field and second place for UMass with a time of 26:35.8. The sophomore duo of Quentin Stipp and Jake LeBlanc followed Burns as they took the 49th and 76th, respectively. Stipp finished with a time of 26:57.3 and LeBlanc finished in 27:25.8.

Rounding out the top five for the men’s team was freshmen Paolo Tavares who placed 80th overall, clocking a time of 27:29.8.

The young Minutemen overcame a lack of experience and preseason recognition – UMass was picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic 10 – by finishing fourth at the conference championships. They also walked away with two All-Conference runners in Anthony Taylor and Ben Groleau.

Taylor, a redshirt junior, led the team in four out of the five races he competed in this season. Groleau finished his sophomore campaign with five finishes in the top five for the Minutemen.

Another bright spot this season was Blake Croteau, who turned heads as early as his first race for the Minutemen when the freshman led the team in its opening meet at the UMass Invitational. Croteau earned two Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week awards in October and hinted that he might be a contributor for years to come, finishing in the top-five of every event this year.

Women overcome obstacles

It’s safe to say that the UMass women’s cross country team didn’t exactly travel with a horseshoe in its back pocket this season.

Despite a slew of injuries, the Minutewomen impressed the A-10 by finishing as a top-five team despite their eighth-place preseason prediction, leaving UMass coach Julie LaFreniere pleased considering the circumstances.

“I guess we weren’t the most lucky team,” she said, “but (we) were certainly a very hard working team which sets us up for a strong season next year.”

The team competed without many of its promising young runners, such as freshmen Emily Ruggiero and Natalie Mako, but still put together an impressive season that came to an end after a 25th place finish the NCAA Regional Championships.

“It was things that you probably couldn’t predict of change that hindered us,” LaFreniere said. “The team did what they could to be at their best level.”

Throughout the season, the Minutewomen were led by junior Rachel Hilliard, who took first place in six out of seven meets this year. Hilliard had to settle for a third-place finish at the CCSU mini-meet in October after dealing with a bizarre foot injury just days before.

Mako missed most of her freshman campaign with calf spasms. In her place, Christine Davis finished in the top four in all seven of her meets this year and also added Atlantic 10 Performer of the Week and UMass Athlete of the Week earlier this season.

One bright spot was redshirt junior Alex Purdue-Smithe, who was one of the runners that stayed healthy despite being plagued by injuries in the past. With another year of eligibility remaining, Purdue-Smithe will look to build on finally compiling a consistent season.

The Minutewomen also had large contributions from junior Katie Powers, who provided four top-five finishes for the team and proved her toughness after completing last week’s race despite having an asthma attack. She was seventh for the team that day.

“She was on oxygen for a good 30 minutes after the race,” LaFreneire said. “She wouldn’t drop out, she kept going and I think that says a lot about her.”

With the women’s season coming to a close, the team will focus on returning to full health in order to prepare for the future.

Frank Corona can be reached at fcorona@umass.edu.

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