September 8, 2006

Harriers Square Off With Army to Open

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The NFL season isn’t the only league kicking off this weekend — teams are back in action around the Ancient Eight as well. This includes the men’s and women’s cross country teams, both of which begin the fall season at an age-old rival with a race against Army in West Point, N.Y.
Expectations run high for the men’s team this year following a fourth-place finish in the NCAA Northeast Regionals in 2005. The Red has improved steadily over the last three years, moving up in Northeast rank from No. 14 to No. 4. Head coach Nathan Taylor expressed confidence in and optimism for the Red to build on its success and break into the national rankings this season.
“I think we were definitely a top-50 team last year,” Taylor said. “All three teams that finished ahead of us in the Northeast Region last year were nationally ranked. I think it’s time to make the next jump into the top-30.”
Taylor reflected on his four years as head coach and expressed an even brighter outlook for the future.
“It’s so gratifying to see that our hard work and recruiting over the last few years is paying off,” Taylor said. “We have only one senior among our top-7 runners, so even if we fall short of our goals this year, we should be even better next season.”
That senior is Brad Baird, the Red’s breakout No. 1 runner last year. Baird was among the best runners in the Ivy League, finishing just short of the cut for the NCAA national championships.
With regard to the meet against Army today, Taylor again seemed confident.
“Army was a very solid team last year and we’ll have to run well,” he said. “But I think we’ll be fine as long as we focus on ourselves. … I’m anxious to see the freshmen run in a competitive setting and to finally get the season started.”
For the women, likewise, a solid result against Army will be expected. The team finished seventh at the NCAA Northeast Regionals last year. In addition, senior captain and Ithaca , N.Y., native Robyn Ellerbrock leads a group that is returning all seven of its starters. Army, meanwhile, has very little experience to rely on this year. The Black Knights come in with a new coach as well as an entirely different roster, hoping for underclassmen to rapidly emerge as tough competitors.
One challenge for the Red on the women’s side could be the course at West Point, as it is described as one of the most difficult on the schedule and features hilly up-and-down terrain. The course, which is as rigorous as possible within fair bounds, seems to give Army at least one distinct home-field advantage. Nonetheless, both Cornell teams hope to start the season positively before facing some of their biggest tests of the year in following weeks.