October 20, 2011

Cross Country: Band on the Run

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The class of 2011 finished in the Top-3 among Ivy League men’s cross country teams in its first three years, but came up short of placing that high four years in a row — a feat that has not been accomplished since 1957. Two NCAA qualifiers and an IC4a champion graduated in May, handing the reins over to senior captain Chandler Kemp to lead the team in its pursuit for its first Ancient Eight championship since 1993.Running behind Kemp, the junior class is expected to be one of the most talented groups of long distance runners that Cornell has seen in a while, featuring Brett Kelly, Bobby Micikas, Adam Trofa, Nick Wade and Andy Arnold. “I think the junior class is a strong class and they have a strong presence on the team,” Kemp explained. “I get along really well with them.”“[The younger guys] definitely affected our performance,” added sophomore Max Groves. “Last year we had three seniors who were up front and we didn’t have a pack mentality at all, but this year with such a young team we all usually pack up and it works well.”The Red also has a strong handful of underclassmen that is ready to take its game to the next level. Top sophomores include Gabe Heck, who was crucial to the team’s Top-5 as a freshman, and Groves, a walk-on who has been the most improved runner so far in the team’s early practices, according to Kemp.The Ivy League championships will be a fight of the fittest for the Ancient Eight. Princeton has the bulk of last year’s team returning, which ranked No. 12 in the country, the highest finish by an Ivy men’s team since Dartmouth reached No. 9 in 1989. This season Princeton is ranked No. 11 in the preseason national poll.Recently, the Red sent its top runners to the Princeton Invitational, outrunning 12 other teams including the host Tigers. With a successful beginning of the season, the Red hopes to take its momentum into future competition and the race for the title.“The ultimate goal for the rest of the season is to finish as high as we can,” Groves said.  “Clearly we have been doing a good job in the past, keeping our Top-5 out and close together, running with the pack,” Kemp added. “We want to keep working on that and keep that going. We just want to get a little bit sharper and move that pack up in the field a little bit for the next few races and then perhaps regionals.”The women’s cross country team is also making a name for itself this fall, posting one of the most successful seasons the Red has seen in years.This year’s squad has taken advantage of several chances to race against some of the nation’s top ranked teams, proving that it can handle the competition. The Red’s competitive spirit has paid off, as Cornell placed No. 25 in the latest national rankings coming off a fifth place finish out of 40 competitors at the pre-nationals meet in Terre Haute, Ind.“It was really terrific,” said assistant coach Artie Smith. “To place fifth at the pre-national meet is impressive.”Perhaps most impressive is how close the team came to the other top finishers. With a final score of 161 points, the Red placed only one point shy of fourth place and four points from the No. 3 spot.The team used the race as a chance to preview the course set to host the national championship. Last year then-freshman Devin McMahon was the only one to compete at nationals. This year Cornell is hoping to send the entire team, something that has not happened for 10 years.Before reaching this milestone, the Red is looking forward to the Ivy League championships, which take place in two weeks.“We’re hoping to win it, but it’s going to be really competitive,” said junior Katie Kellner. “It’s going to come down to about five schools that have a really good chance.”Kellner has been a crucial part of Cornell’s success, earning fifth place in the pre-nationals meet. “It’s nice to see that people and coaches around the country are finally giving us some recognition,” Hartung said.So what makes this team so much different than it has been in years past?“I think we’ve all just really stepped it up in practice,” Kellner said. “We’re more experienced, we know what we’re doing and we also have outstanding freshmen who have really helped us.”The demands of distance running go beyond the physical aspect, making confidence and enthusiasm important driving factors behind the team’s success, according to Smith.“In distance running, it has to be fun,” he said. “If they keep doing the things they’re doing, we’re going to have a lot of fun this season.”

Original Author: Rebecca Velez