Cross-country teams fail to qualify for national championship

by Donghan Zhao | 11/17/09 11:00pm

In their last races of the season, the Dartmouth men's cross country team finished fifth while the women's team placed 12th at the NCAA regionals this weekend at Franklin Park in Boston, Mass.

Despite its high finish, the men's team had a heartbreaking race to close out the season.

Competing in the Northeast Region of the NCAA Division-I cross-country regional, the men's team was vying for a spot at the NCAA national championship, both as a team and individually. The top two teams from each region receive automatic bids to nationals, while the rest hope for one of the 13 at-large bids given out by a committee.

"One of the goals for us was to peak at the end of the season at regionals," head coach Barry Harwick said. "As it turned out, we had our best race of the season at regionals, and that is very exciting for our athletes."

Neither the team nor any of the Big Green runners, however, qualified for the national championships scheduled to start at Indiana State University next week.

Chris Zablocki '10 was the first Big Green runner to cross the finish line with a time of 31:24, placing 14th overall.

That, however, does not tell the whole story.

With less than half a mile to go in the race, Zablocki was well on his way to securing an automatic bid, but as he was running down a short hill, he lost his balance and took an ill-timed fall.

The course conditions were partially to blame for Zablocki's slip. Heavy rain and earlier high school races had turned the course into a "complete swamp," Harwick said.

The momentum Zablocki lost due to his fall caused a few runners to pass him, costing him the opportunity to compete at nationals.

"You could literally see the finish line," Harwick said. "It was very frustrating for [Zablocki] to see such a good opportunity slip away."

Zablocki, Ethan Shaw '12 and Tom Robbins '11, who finished 19th and 23rd respectively, were named All-Region runners. Kevin Treadway '10 and Alex Hall '10 rounded out Dartmouth's top five.

As a team, the Big Green finished with 135 points, 10 more than Ivy League champion Columbia, which finished fourth.

Team cross-country races assign points to competitors based on the places of their top-five runners, with a better finishes worth fewer points.

Syracuse and Iona placed first and second and received automatic bids to nationals. The third-place finisher, Providence, was selected as an at-large bid and will also compete at Indiana State next week.

The NCAA regionals marks the end of a bittersweet season for the men's cross country squad. Many members of the team had high hopes of competing at nationals next week.

"We definitely had a good season and I'm very proud of our team," Harwick said. "But it was a bit frustrating to not have anyone qualify for nationals."

The Dartmouth women's cross-country team faced similarly harsh weather conditions and finished 12th out of 35 teams, scoring 398 points at its NCAA Regionals race.

"I think we did really well, given the course conditions," Elizabeth Short '12 said.

Short was the top runner for the Big Green, finishing the three-mile race with a time of 23:24, good for 38th overall.

"I was happy with the race I ran, but I always think I can do better," Short said.

Other top Dartmouth runners included Amy Schuman '12, Ali Smrcina '10, Kate Sullivan '13 and Monica Hernandez '10.

Syracuse and Providence took home gold and silver, and will both represent the Northeast region at the national championships.

The Dartmouth women's team has shown steady progress over the past two seasons. The team finished higher this season than last, at the two most important races of the year, Heps and regionals.

"Part of the reason why we have done well is because we have great team chemistry," Short said. "It is an upward-building trend that we are looking to continue."

One example of that chemistry came earlier this year at the Keene Invitational, when many of the Big Green runners who were not competing drove to Keene State to surprise the team. Dressed in flair, members of the team secretly arrived at the event just before the race started.

"We had gotten lost, but we got there just in time," Short said. "The team was so surprised to see us. They were all smiling as they started the race, which was very funny to see."

The team had one of its better finishes of the year, earning fifth place out of 12 teams.

"I can't emphasize enough how supportive my teammates have been this year," Short said. "I feel grateful to be on this team."

The NCAA regionals also marks the end of women's team's season, as no runner on the team was able to advance to the national championships.

Both the men's and women's teams will now focus their efforts in training for the track and field season, which will begin in January.