The Massachusetts men’s and women’s cross country teams officially entered post-season competition on Saturday, as they traveled to Virginia for the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship.
The men totaled 173 points, which placed them sixth in a field of 14 teams.
“We were looking for maybe one position higher,” said coach David Jackson. “[I am] Satisfied with how they performed being that they’re such a young group of runners.”
Leading the way for UMass was sophomore Erik Engstrom, who earned 19th overall with a time of 25:57. Following him was junior Michael Famiglietti (26th, 26:12), sophomore Jackson Southard (36th, 26:24), senior Samuel Conway (42nd, 26:33) and sophomore Dawson Bathgate (51st, 26:42).
The Minutemen hit their first split at the three kilometer mark, where they had six runners within four seconds of each other. They held true to the pack-running strategy that is crucial to success at large meets, where a lot of runners cross the line in a short amount of time.
This race was especially significant, as it marked coach emeritus Ken O’Brien’s final time at the A-10 Championships. O’Brien will retire this year after leading the program for over five decades.
“We all love and admire Coach O’Brien,” Famiglietti said last week, adding that they wanted to send their coach off on a high note.
On the women’s side, the Minutewomen’s 143 points earned them fourth in the field of 14.
Redshirt senior Heather MacLean paced the Minutewomen, winning the five kilometer race in 17:22 and repeating her individual title from last year, pushing through in the latter half of the race to win by 28 seconds.
Coach Julie LaFreniere mentioned that a few people tried to keep pace with MacLean, but ultimately fell victim to the intense rolling hills.
Following MacLean was teammate Colleen Sands, who finished 16th overall with a time of 18:22. The senior from Princeton, Massachusetts has been a consistent top finisher for UMass this season, placing second on the team in nearly every race she’s run thus far.
LaFreniere spoke highly of her freshmen runners, specifically mentioning Caroline Clark and Colette O’Leary. Clark was third for the Minutewomen, taking 38th place in 18:58. She earned the A-10 Rookie of the Year nod, awarded to the top freshman finisher at the meet.
O’Leary closely followed her, running 19:06 on her way to 44th overall. She placed second amongst freshman behind Clark.
Rounding out the UMass top five was junior Brook Hansel, who completed the course in 19:13, giving her 49th place.
Clark and Hansel found their rhythm in the second half of the race, ultimately pushing the team ahead to their fourth place result. After coming through the mile-and-a-half mark at 68th and 70th place, respectively, they finished at 30th and 49th overall, making up 51 points in the process for the Minutewomen.
The course required a certain level of strength and experience, according to LaFreniere, who said that the hills favored seasoned veteran distance runners. Hill training has been a central theme of the training this fall in preparation for this race.
“I’ve never done as much hill work as I have done this year,” said LaFreniere.
UMass will next travel to Buffalo, New York for the NCAA Northeast Regional Meet, where MacLean will be hoping to punch her ticket to Nationals. That will require a top-four individual finish, against some of the top runners in the country.
“As a team, our goal is to get there and have every one of our athletes pull it together as a team and get everyone to [personal record],” said LaFreniere.
Jackson is likewise looking forward to the final race of the year.
“We’ve told them ‘You guys have done the work and if you hadn’t you wouldn’t be here. So let’s roll,’” Jackson said.
The Northeast Regional Meet will be held at Audubon Golf Course. The women will kick of the day at noon, and the men will follow at 1:00.
Will Katcher can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @will_katcher.