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On Saturday, Sept. 11, Harvard cross country took on Ivy League rivals Princeton and Yale at the Tigers’ home course in New Jersey. Amidst steep competition, the Crimson men placed first in their 8k race, edging Princeton by one point, with the women placing second, falling just short of the Tigers in their 4.8k race.
The sunny Saturday morning was not without drama for both the men and the women in the early season action. In his first race as a Harvard first-year, Graham Blanks flew out in front of the rest of the pack, building a substantial gap over the other competitors. Due to an error from the officiating staff, Blanks ran off the course near the end of the race, losing his lead before finding the course again. Despite the unfortunate mistake, Blanks still finished third overall with a time of 23:41, a sensational debut for the freshman.
“Our takeaways from the race were definitely all positive ones. We know where our competition stands and that we can compete well early in the season when training intensity is still fairly high,” junior co-captain David Melville said. “We had a huge breakthrough with a few members of the team which weren’t surprising to us but likely were to other teams, which was really fun to see.”
Despite a larger turnout than the Short Course Invitational a week ago, the Crimson men still have many runners who will not make their first appearances until the Battle of the Beantown on Sept. 24. First-years like Blanks are largely unknown runners who have never competed at the college level before and are often discounted in pre-season rankings. Melville and the rest of the Harvard men are looking forward to rolling out their talent and surprising nationally recognized teams with the strength of their roster.
In addition to Blanks, sophomore standout Acer Iverson placed second with a time of 23:40, and senior 2019 All-Ivy Second Team selection Matthew Pereira finished right behind Blanks in fourth with a time of 23:41. With junior Luke Laverdiere placing eighth and first-year Andrew Avila placing 19th, the Harvard men had a total of 36 points across their top five. Princeton’s top five finished fifth, sixth, seventh, ninth, and 10th with a total of 37 points. Laverdiere finishing 8th and breaking up the top-five pack of Tigers runners was crucial to win the day and give the Crimson its one-point victory.
“Competing again as a team in the Ivy League after such a long break was interesting because nobody knew where the other team’s fitness levels were at,” said Melville about competing in the Ivy League again. “It was a fast and competitive race, so we learned a lot about our competition and where we fit compared to them. Now the focus for us is to keep our heads down and train through the mid-season until we see the rest of the Ivy League again at Heps.”
For the Harvard women, they came into the race against a nationally-ranked Princeton squad that was expected to win the race. A valiant effort by the Crimson made the race a tight one-point loss which was an exciting start to the young season.
In her final kick, sophomore runner Isabell Sagar beat out a Tiger runner for second place in the race by just 0.03 seconds with a time of 16:18. In addition, first-year Maia Ramsden finished in fifth in her debut race with a time of 16:33. This blistering pace was just in front of senior co-captain and 2019 All-Ivy First Team selection Anna Juul, who finished in eighth with a time of 16:38. The strong start to the season for Sagar and Ramsden is a testament to the depth of the Harvard women, who continue to surprise national rankings with their performances dating back to their 2019 NCAA run. Rounding out the scoring for the Crimson women is sophomore Eloise Freitag, who finished just behind Juul in ninth, and freshman Isabelle Goldstein, who finished 13th in her first race for Harvard.
“The team is definitely excited with how we performed, especially given how early it is in the season,'' senior co-captain Judy Penderdast said. “We are feeling more confident in ourselves after this race, and we are eager to see what we can do with some more training under our belt.”
As the Crimson women progress into their mid-season training, they will look to continue their development as the team gels further. Moreover, the team will look to build off of the hard work it has put in since training together last summer in Flagstaff, Ariz. Regardless of the result, both captains echoed that it was fantastic to be racing with their teammates against meaningful opponents again.
“It was so great to be back to competing in cross country after a two-year hiatus,” Pendergast commented. “Cross country is such a team sport; I think that a lot of us missed the bond you feel when you get to race alongside your teammates.”
The Harvard men and women have a two-week break before they take on a 24-team heat at the Coast-to-Coast Battle of Beantown hosted by Boston College on Friday, Sept. 24. In 2019, both Crimson squads placed fourth in the competitive event as they showed out against multiple ranked competitors. This year, the No. 28 Harvard men will be tested primarily by No. 6 Arkansas, No. 23 Duke, and a field of highly competitive Northeast region schools. The nationally unranked Harvard women will be tested by No. 13 North Carolina, No. 23 Connecticut, and No. 26 Providence.
— Staff writer William Connaughton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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