The Cornell women’s cross country team has only been gaining momentum as it approaches Heps, the historic Ivy League Championship, this weekend.
With the racing season being relatively short, and the number of competitions few, it is critical that proper training is done in the summer to be able to put it all together come race day. Head coach Artie Smith ’96 is confident in his team’s preparation and the way they have competed all season.
“The part that is hard when racing is having a group that can learn how to establish their presence early on in the race,” Smith said. “And this group is doing a phenomenal job of that. And we’ve been getting better each week. The next step for us is to close out the race at Heps.”
The team has proved itself each time they toed the line, and the Red has a cohesive group that has seen success without struggle. The three senior captains — Shannon Hugard, Jackie Katzman and Erin McLaughlin — have demonstrated ease in leading their team. All strong competitors, the trio consistently finishes in the top five, effectively bringing the rest of the team up with them.
Just two weeks ago, the women took to Happy Valley to compete in the Penn State National Invitational and placed fifth. McLaughlin and Hugard finished 22nd and 23rd out of 177 runners, but it was freshman Gabrielle Orie who led the pack, finishing just ahead of the veterans to take 18th. Her time of 20:53 marks the second best in school history on the course.
The Red will return to Van Cortlandt Park in New York City to face all of the Ivy League schools at Heps this Friday. Historically, the competition was always held at Van Cortlandt Park, so it is a special opportunity to return there, especially having familiarity running the course earlier this season.
This race is unique in many ways, but what really sets it apart is the camaraderie of the competitors. The meet is a gathering of eight schools that all share similar experiences, whether it be preparing for difficult exams on late nights in the library, or braving the elements in fall weather endemic to the Northeast. Heps is a culmination of decades of hard work and excellence in the Ivy League.
“When [Smith] sat us down at the beginning of the season, he compared our team to the solar eclipse that was happening at the time; irrefutably, his words couldn’t hold more truth,” Orie said. “Like the solar eclipse, every girl on the team has uncapped potential to make something incredible happen, something that doesn’t happen too often. This — the magic — is by far what I’m looking most forward to.”
With their sights set on a Heps title, the women will travel to New York this Thursday knowing they have the necessary training and preparation under their belts.
“It’s going to be really close,” Smith said. “There are several teams that I’m sure are back on their campuses feeling like they have a shot to come away with the trophy, and that’s what makes it really fun. And we’re excited to be in the hunt and to be one of those teams.”
For the Red’s three captains, this year’s competition will mark their last Heps for cross country.
“I’m determined to make the most of competing in my last cross country Heps by taking a lot of pride in representing Cornell and competing to the best of my ability alongside my team,” McLaughlin said. “I’m also looking forward to channeling school spirit with my teammates, coaches, alumni and parents.”
This year’s squad, having a range of experiences in collegiate cross country, looks to continue their upward trend of success this season. Smith is confident in his team’s preparation, and the team hopes to put all of the pieces together and come home to Ithaca, trophy in hand.