XC teams heading to nationals

by Jordan Einhorn | 11/17/13 5:18pm

Both cross country teams will attend the national championships for the first time in more than a decade.

For the first time since 2001, both the women’s and men’s cross country teams qualified for the NCAA Division I national championship from the Northeast Region.

The women’s second-place finish earned one of the two automatic qualifying berths to take the team back to nationals for the first time in 12 years. The Big Green’s 84 points put it far ahead of third-place finisher Syracuse University, with 135 points, and Ivy League rival Cornell University, who finished fourth with 154 points. Only No. 2 Providence College overtook the Big Green.

The Big Green women also had the individual champion, as Abbey D’Agostino ’14 continued her undefeated season and earned her third straight individual regional championship. Her time of 19:48 for the six-kilometer race was enough to defeat second-place finisher Emily Sisson of Providence by 10.8 seconds. D’Agostino heads into the national championship as the favorite to win the individual title.

The men’s team had to wait until Saturday to be officially informed by the NCAA that its fifth-place finish was good enough to earn them an at-large qualifying spot. The Big Green beat sixth-place Ivy League rival Harvard University by a large margin, 155-101.

“The NCAA doesn’t officially post who has earned an at-large bid until 3 o’clock Saturday, but there are a variety of websites in our sport such as letsrun.com or flotrack.org that are experienced with the selection process and they go online and post who they think the teams will be,” men’s coach Barry Harwick said. “Both websites had us qualifying for the championship, which was enough to get us excited Friday, but we didn’t want to be too excited until we were sure. As soon as I saw it online officially I blasted out an email to everyone, but I’m sure the guys were already online looking.”

The men’s team was led by top-10 finishes by Will Geoghegan ’14 and John Bleday ’14, both of whom would have qualified as individuals had the team not made it. Geoghegan, who just fully recovered from illness, finished fifth in 30:22, followed by Bleday in 30:26, good for eighth.

“Will and John worked together and they tried to be as close to the front as possible,” Harwick said. “They did a phenomenal job and stuck with the lead pack the whole way.”

The Big Green’s final three scorers all crossed the line within seven seconds and five spots of each other. Steve Mangan ’14 was the third runner for Dartmouth, running 30:50 for 27th, followed by Silas Talbot ’15 in 29th with a time of 30:55 and Tim Gorman ’16 two seconds back in 30:57 for 32nd place.

“Watching people come across the line, we were definitely happy because we knew we had run well,” Geoghegan said. “Immediately after, we thought we were definitely in, but then we found out that Iona didn’t run well and finished in third instead of second. Because of how the system works that almost kept us from qualifying, so it was a little nerve racking at night waiting.”

Following their victory at the Ivy League championship, the women had higher expectations from external sources that they would definitely qualify.

“We were ranked second going into the meet, which is a lot of pressure because the top two make it automatically and there is this whole complicated system for the others,” Dana Giordano ’16 said. “We knew we just had to go out and perform, and some people had great races and some people did what they had to do. It was a weird feeling after Heps, because we know everyone in the Ivy League but here we don’t, since it’s a larger meet but it means more.”

With regionals only eight days before nationals, D’Agostino had to employ a more conservative strategy to go for the win without expending extra energy.

“The plan was to stay with the front pack while being as conservative as possible, since there is a pretty quick turnaround from regionals to nationals,” she said. “The goal was obviously to win, but I tried to stay with the pack for as long as possible and started to break away with a mile to go. The Providence team is really talented and one of the favorites to win nationals as a team, so a lot of their girls were pushing the pace.”

After D’Agostino finished, she had to wait less than a minute before Sarah Delozier ’15 crossed the line in 20:35 in 13th place, followed by Giordano in 20:44 for 17th place. Elizabeth Markowitz ’16 and Alison Lanois ’15 came in together in 26th and 27th place with times of 21:00 and 21:05, respectively.

“Everyone has a race plan: I was trying to stick together, and then Alison and Liz worked together at the end,” Giordano said. “It was great because Alison hasn’t had anyone to run with in a while. We are all learning how to pack run and be motivated by each other. The only thing I heard my coach yelling during the race was ‘team’ because you know you have to run for more than yourself.”

The Big Green will rely on D’Agostino for direction in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday, because she is the only team member who has competed at the national cross country meet before.

“It will be a lot of it sharing my prior experiences with them while also trying to keep the pressure down, because yes it’s a bigger meet that is more competitive, but the Wisconsin Invitational was almost as competitive,” D’Agostino said. “Despite the name ‘national championship’ you don’t have to compete any differently. We just have to stay confident, balanced and focused and use our teammates. We know we are all in the race together and it is awesome representation for Dartmouth.”

Looking for her first individual cross country national championship, D’Agostino could also win her fifth overall national title. Her previous victories came in the 5000-meter run at the outdoor national championships for track in 2012 and 2013, as well as the 5000-meter run and the 3000-meter run at the indoor national championship in 2013. If victorious, D’Agostino would become the first Ivy League runner to win the title. The women’s team is also looking to end the season on a high note with a top-10 finish.

“We can be a top 10 team if we perform well — nothing crazy has to happen,” D’Agostino said. “There is the ‘freak out factor’ where about one-third of teams will have people that are so nervous that they won’t perform. We aren’t going to be one of those teams, and we are just going to do our thing — nothing different from any other race.”