After a host of injuries, the loss of a senior contributor and one of the most disappointing Big East performances in recent history, many wrote off the Georgetown men’s cross country team in this past weekend’s Mid-Atlantic Regional.
But the Hoyas regrouped and put together a solid team effort, totaling 78 points to finish third behind runner-up No. 29 Villanova and champion No. 17 Princeton.
Georgetown’s performance helped it earn an at-large invitational to the NCAA National Championships next Monday.
Senior Ayalew Taye did all he could for the Hoyas, taking the individual title in convincing fashion to add yet another win to his impressive final cross country season. From the gun, Taye was out with the lead pack, hanging behind the leaders and biding his time.
Then on a hill with about 1200 meters to go, Taye made a strong move to gap himself from the rest of the field. Putting nearly 50m between him and the nearest competitors, the senior had enough space to hold off hard-charging Penn State senior Kyle Dawson and junior Vince McNally to win the 10K race in 30:05.
“I was mentally prepared for that hill, but it wasn’t really my plan. Winning wasn’t really on the radar until I realized, `I think I can win it,’ with a mile to go,” Taye said. “Winning it felt really good.”
Director of Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Pat Henner attributed Taye’s success this season to his renewed focus as an upperclassman leader and his work with assistant coach and former teammate Mike Banks, who has personally coached the senior throughout the fall.
Coming next for the Hoyas was redshirt freshman Andrew Springer, who bounced back in a big way from his Big East performance to finish 11th overall in 30:27. Springer stayed with the chase pack from the start, hanging tough with the group throughout the entirety of the race to give the Hoyas another low scorer.
But perhaps most helpful for the Hoyas were the performances of redshirt sophomore Mark Dennin and redshirt freshman Ben Furcht, who ran together for the first 4.5 miles of the race and finished 18th in 30:46 and 23rd in 31:01, respectively. Dennin, in his first race back after recovering from a sports hernia over the summer, was positioned behind the top 25 from the start and then began to move up over the last 800m of the course.
“Mark’s a talented athlete. He’s also a gamer,” Henner said. “He’s been looking OK in practice but not great, but then in the race Saturday he looked pretty fantastic.”
Furcht, who missed much of his summer training due to mononucleosis, also mirrored Dennin’s moves at the end to work his way into the top 25.
Rounding out the top five for Georgetown was redshirt junior TC Lumbar, who finished 25th in 31:01.
While redshirt junior James Grimes and redshirt freshman Bobby Peavey did not have their best races, their 29th- and 32nd-place finishes, respectively, gave the Hoyas the best sixth and seventh runners in the field.
“We were pretty ecstatic to see them bounce back and give such good efforts from everybody across the board,” Henner said. “Even if we didn’t talk about it, I think the guys knew that we had to run well and execute to make NCAAs.”
According to unofficial calculations, the Hoyas were the fourth team to secure an at-large bid, getting in with three points. Alabama and William and Mary – two teams the Hoyas’ had beaten earlier in the season – helped out the Blue and Gray by automatically qualifying from their regions. Georgetown then picked up its third point when Notre Dame received an at-large invite just before the Hoyas.
On the women’s side, No. 5 Georgetown continued its memorable season by coming even closer than they did at the Big East Championships to No. 1 and reigning national champion Villanova, as the Hoyas’ 40 points finished runner-up to the Wildcats’ 29.
Junior Emily Infeld led the way again for the Hoyas, building off her strong performance at the conference championships to finish the 6K course second overall with a personal best time of 19:50. Infeld, who was focusing on running a strong last 800m of the race, let Villanova senior Sheila Reid and The George Washington University senior Megan Hogan break away from the field and stayed with the chase pack. Picking up the pace with a little more than a half mile to go, Infeld ran down Hogan and closed the gap on Reid, who took home the individual title for the second year in a row.
“I just tried to give it all I had,” Infeld said of the last 800m of her race. “I felt like I finished a lot stronger than I’ve been finishing, so I was really excited about that.”
Sophomore Emily Jones was also with the lead chase pack through 7K but fell off and ran by herself for most of the last 1000m. Jones served as a target for freshmen Maddie Chambers and Joanna Stevens, both of whom had been running further back in the field and were working their way up. All three of them would finish in the top 10, with Jones placing eighth in 20:22, Chambers ninth in 20:24 and Stevens 10th in 20:30.
For Stevens, it was the breakout performance that the Hoyas have been waiting for from one of the class of 2014’s top recruits.
“Definitely the breakthrough we knew was coming, that she was ready for,” women’s Head Coach Chris Miltenberg said. “[It was] certainly great timing to have it.”
Rounding out the top five for the Hoyas was graduate student Renee Tomlin, who placed 14th in 20:42. While hers was still a solid race, Tomlin was too conservative in the middle part of the course, letting Chambers and Stevens go. Sophomore Kirsten Kasper lost contact with the group in the middle as well, though like Tomlin, she still ran a solid team race to finish 17th in 20:42. Junior Katie McCafferty lost contact with the pack during the first mile and finished a disappointing 28th in 21:36 to round out the Hoyas’ top seven.
While there was not much on the line for the Hoyas or the Wildcats since both had all but secured their invites to the NCAA Championships coming into the race, the Blue and Gray walked away excited about the fact that they drew five points closer to the Wildcats at Regionals in comparison to the teams’ finishes at the Big East Championships.
“We’re closing the gap on them we hope. But you know, they’re great,” Miltenberg said. “Maybe one of the best teams in NCAA history, and the best part is [that] they make us better.”
Both teams will now prepare for the NCAA National Championships, which will be held in Terre Haute, Ind., next Monday.