Women's cross country hasn't automatically qualified for the national championships since 1998.

Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

Women's cross country hasn't automatically qualified for the national championships since 1998.

November 18, 2019

Cornell Women’s Cross Country Qualifies for Nationals

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This past Friday in Buffalo, in hopes of advancing to the NCAA championships, Cornell’s two cross country teams fought to continue their seasons at the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships. Seven runners total from the men’s and women’s teams competed, with the men running a 10k and the women running a 6k.

The top two teams at each regional championship automatically qualify for the national championship, resulting in 18 immediate team qualifiers. Four of the top individual finishers who are not on a qualifying team also automatically qualify for championships. Thirteen additional teams are then selected to receive at-large bids by the NCAA DI Cross Country Subcommittee.

The men’s team saw its season end as it did not qualify for championships, finishing ninth overall out of 37 teams with 298 points. Sophomore Matthew Fusco finished first among Cornell runners and 28th overall in 29:38.6. He was followed by freshman Perry MacKinnon (62nd, 30:06.6), Sophomore Marek Nowak (67th, 30:08.4), freshman Rishabh Prakash (70th, 30:10.5) and junior Paul Casavant (71st, 30:10.5).

The women’s team turned in an outstanding performance, finishing 2nd out of 37 teams with 126 points and qualifying for the national championships. Junior Elle Orie led all Cornell runners with a 14th place finish in 19:52.2. Senior Taylor Knibb (16th, 19:58.6), senior Kyleigh Spearing (27th, 20:18.5), junior Melissa Zammitti (28th, 20:20.8) and senior Audrey Huelskamp (41st, 20:39.4) all crossed the finish line shortly after.

Coming into the race, the women’s team was ranked 11th in the northeast region, but did not let that ranking hold them back — a gritty performance perfectly encapsulated the team’s season-long determination.

“Honestly, I have no words. It’s kind of like a dream,” Orie said. “To beat Columbia, who is ranked number one in the region, and to beat Boston College and beat Yale … it just shows a lot can happen in two weeks if you just keep fighting through.”

Many of the runners also finished close together with similar times, revealing not only their individual strengths but also their ability to push each other and feed off one another’s energy.

“[It] shows how much we can lift each other up by just being around each other … our energy is contagious,” said Orie. “I think that’s what really leads to good performances when you can rely on teammates to get you through [it].”

As the women’s team advances to the national championships for the first time since 2013 — and their first time auto-qualifying since 1998 — they look to continue showcasing their individual talent along with their strength in team unity.

“I’d like to think of us as the underdogs that are gonna show what [the] Red is all about … There’s definitely no expectations because we haven’t been here in a long time,” said Orie. “Just don’t count us out.”

The team will compete at the NCAA Championships on Saturday, Nov. 23 at 12:30 p.m. in Terre Haute, Indiana.