UMass cross country holds its own on national stage

By Nick Souza

A member of the men's cross-country team runs the course at an invitational hosted by UMass on Saturday.   Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian
A member of the men’s cross-country team runs the course at an invitational hosted by UMass on Saturday.
Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian

After starting the season in the Minuteman Invitational, which featured just six teams per race, the Massachusetts men’s and women’s cross country teams upped the ante this weekend.

The Minutemen and Minutewomen traveled to Franklin Park to compete against 24 teams, several of whom were nationally ranked, on Friday afternoon in Boston.  In the women’s race, UMass finished 17th with a total team score of 540. The men finished 13th in their respective race with a score of 384. Despite the middle of the pack finishes, both coaches walked away with positive outlooks on the season moving forward.

The women’s 5 kilometer race was won handily by Providence with a score of 42, easily beating out fellow nationally ranked opponents Syracuse (127) and Georgetown (134). Providence is expected to rise in the national polls this week as a result. The first runner to cross the line in the race that featured 206 individual runners was junior Christina Melian of Stony Brook University, who finished with a time of 16:50.

The first runner to cross the line for the Minutewomen was making her season debut for the 2015 season. Junior captain Heather Maclean placed 85th overall, with a time of 18:16. Early in the season it didn’t appear UMass would have a true lead runner from week to week, but coach Julie Lafreniere seems confident she has found one in MacLean.

The rest of the top five runners in the Minutewomen pack were separated by a mere 13 seconds, with the second runner Alexa Livingstone finishing at 18:46 and fifth runner Brook Hansel finishing at 18:59. The pack as a whole trailed MacLean by 30 seconds, leaving a total pack time of 43 seconds from first to fifth.

“The team had a great box position to start the race and they were able to stay together near the top quarter of the group and they were able to avoid being boxed in,” Lafreniere said of her team’s performance.

Lafreniere expects this group as a whole to continue to progress.

“I’m just being patient with this team. The times were good and they ran well but I expect them to run faster, and the times are not representative of how athletic this group of runners are,” Lafreniere said.

Minutemen Show Promise

In the men’s race, No. 3 Syracuse raced to the expectations of its national ranking, taking first place with a score of 25. They were followed by Ivy League foe Dartmouth with 67, and Purdue finished third with a score of 82.  Sophomore Justyn Knight gave Syracuse a boost by being the first of 189 to cross the line with a time of 23:51.

For the Minutemen, the finishing times for the team pack was fairly spread out, at 55 seconds from first to fifth. UMass was led by senior Ben Groleau, who finished 50th overall with a time of 24:57. Paolo Tavares followed in second for the Minutemen at 25:21, bouncing back from what was an overly conservative race two weeks ago.  Jay McMahon rounded off the group at 25:52, earning him 116th.

“We had five runners who finished under 26 minutes, and that’s very encouraging for our team. We are trying to focus on a smaller group in our team, and trying to move the pack up,” said head coach Ken O’Brien.

UMass displayed solid depth against a field of nationally high-ranking teams.  Though the team has matured throughout the past year, there are still relatively young runners that occupy crucial positions on the team, and will be expected to provide points down the road.  When they were exposed to the national stage, O’Brien was impressed with how they handled it.

“The team didn’t take a backseat. We’ve tried to race within ourselves early, not putting ourselves out of the race, but still not putting pressure on ourselves to stay near the front of the race,” O’Brien explained.

Both teams are facing a quick turn around, as they will be heading to the Paul Short invitational this Friday in Pennsylvania.

Nick Souza can be reached at [email protected]