October 3, 2008

W. Cross Country Looks to Rebound

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In the past five years, the women’s cross country team has finished in the bottom half of the Ivy League standings all but once — a third-place finish in 2006. Last year, the team sunk to seventh place in the ancient eight, its worst finish in years. The Red had not finished that low at Heps since 1989, when the team finished seventh in a 10-team field that included Army and Navy. Despite the team’s recent struggles, the Red appears poised to restore pride to a program that captured four Ivy League championships during the ’90s.
While last year’s team did not excel against its Ivy League competition, the reasons for optimism are obvious. The Red’s 2007 squad was devoid of seniors, resulting in a lack of experience coupled with an inability to match the talented seniors that other schools possessed. Four different Ivy League teams placed a senior among the top-10 overall finishers at last season’s Heps. The silver lining of not having seniors one year, however, is that no one graduates.
“We didn’t lose anyone from last year,” said senior captain Aeriel Emig. “I think that definitely helps. A lot of people already know the courses and are adapted to the workouts.”
Three Cornell seniors are expected to play big roles this season: Emig, Marie Parks and Fiona Cundy. While other teams attempt to compensate for the production lost to graduation and adjust to new team leaders, the Red will have no such transition phase.
“I think [experience] will be a huge factor, especially since [heading into] last year most of our team hadn’t ever run in the top-5,” said junior Stephanie Pancoast. “This year, with everyone returning, there is a completely different dynamic. Everyone is really excited.”
Pancoast led Cornell’s aforementioned “top-5” at last year’s Heps, where she placed 17th overall. Parks finished 26th overall, and third among the Red at the meet. A trio of rookies joined them in scoring for the Red, as Katie Sullivan, Kim Standridge and Caroline Schultz placed second, fourth and fifth, respectively. All three sophomores will be looking to improve upon their freshmen times this season.
Only Dartmouth finished behind Cornell last season, but the list of team’s looking up to the Red should be much longer this year.
“Everyone knows that the team is older and more mature,” Standridge said. “I think it would be really cool if we were able to win [Heps], but there are going to be some tough teams. I definitely think we’ll do a lot better than last year. I think we’ll maybe be in the top-3.”
While there are a few promising freshmen on this year’s squad, any major progress for this year’s team will probably have to come from the improvement of returning runners. Meghan Brown appears to be the rookie most capable of playing an important role.
Brown joins Pancoast, Sullivan, Parks, Standridge, Schultz, Emig and Cundy as the runners most likely to be in the top-5 for Cornell this season.
“We’re just hoping to improve on last year’s performances,” Emig said. “We want to keep improving our times individually and as a team.”
The Red has already shown that it has taken a big step forward since last season. At the Iona Meet of Champions, Cornell placed second among 21 teams and outclassed Penn, which finished fourth at last year’s Heps.
“I think we definitely have a really bright future,” Standridge said. “We’re really excited about it for sure.”