The heat, the humidity and the nationally-ranked competition gave the team a true test, but Cornell women’s cross country did not back down, taking fourth place this weekend at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational, just a few points behind the top three teams.
The Red competed alongside six other Division I schools at the invitational hosted by Penn State in the 2016 season’s inaugural meet.
The field included No. 15 Syracuse, No. 19 Georgetown, No. 38 West Virginia, St. Joseph’s, Rutgers and No. 13 Penn State. When all was said and done, Penn State finished first followed by Georgetown, Syracuse and Cornell – all three within just a few points of each other.
Cornell’s head coach Artie Smith ’96 said he felt confident going into the contest and was not disappointed by the team’s efforts — especially considering the high-caliber competition.
“It was very exciting to see our team mix it up so well with three teams ranked in the nation’s top 20, and to defeat another, West Virginia, that is also in the pools and a perennial contender at the NCAAs,” Smith said.
First place was never out of the question, and the ability to keep up with top teams inspires confidence among the group, according to Smith.
“It was back and forth most of the way with Georgetown and Syracuse, and we take away a lot of confidence in our ability to race with those teams,” he said.
Instead of disappointment in just missing second or third, the team feels a sense of accomplishment.
“When it is only a few points separating teams you always look for ways to make up that gap,” Smith said. “Rather than be disappointed, though, we’re excited that we’re right in the mix and looking forward to closing that gap the next time we get a chance.”
Individually, several of the Cornell women ran extremely well. Junior Jackie Katzman and senior captain Taylor Spillane finished in fifth and eighth place, respectively. Katzman ran the 6K in 21:42. Sophomore Gracie Todd, junior Erin McLaughlin and sophomore Briar Brumley — her first time in the team’s top five — also scored for the Red.
While the coach gave everyone credit, praising Spillane’s “gritty effort” and Brumley’s strong finish, he was particularly impressed with Katzman’s performance.
“This was a big competitive breakthrough for Jackie, to be contending for the top five in a major Division I college cross country race,” he said. “I thought she handled the newness of the situation exceptionally well and followed through on her race plan great.”
Her time of 21:42 is the second best ever by a Cornellian on that course.
Prior to the meet, it was unclear if the team would still be a little rusty from the offseason. While they may not have been in midseason form, the runners certainly stepped up.
“I wouldn’t call them rusty but at the same time we are far from where we’ll be mid-season,” Smith said. “And that’s what we want: we want to start well but finish the season even better and be at our best during the championship part of the season.”
With the season beginning to heat up, Smith and his runners know what they must address going forward.
“The competitive efforts were there,” he said. “I think everyone took away a number of things they’ll be able to address right away in our next meet to be even sharper and more prepared.”
This effort was especially apparent in the last kilometer, when many of the runners picked up ground on the field.
While it is still very early, a meet and performance like this help Cornell measure up against its peers in a particularly positive way.
“This confirmed our group’s belief that we have the abilities to be a national caliber team,” Smith said. “There’s lots still to work on but the best way to learn these things is to race against good people, and I thought our group took advantage of a great opportunity in a very good way.”
Cornell plans to bring a very large group to its next meet and hopes to improve upon some specifics at Penn State. The race will be next Saturday in Rochester, New York — the Yellow Jacket Invitational.