2012 Season Outlook Promising, Challenging for Hungry Bulldogs

Michael Cunetta. (photo by Katrina Garry)
Michael Cunetta. (photo by Katrina Garry)

Team Matches High Goals with High Work Rate and Commitment

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – After three months away, the Bulldogs have returned to Yale's campus primed and ready for the 2012 cross country season. Led by a strong core of seniors, the Elis return most of their top squad from last year and have their eyes set on a significant leap in the Ivy League standings. This year's team will be bolstered by the addition of a deep crop of freshmen and senior track and field captain and middle distance ace Timothy Hillas.

"The team is looking very strong and committed from the senior class down to the freshmen," said senior captain Kevin Lunn, who heads a talented group of seniors that includes Demetri Goutos, Hillas, Sam Kirtner, Michael Pierce and Matthew Thwaites. Kirtner and Thwaites regularly scored for the Bulldogs last season, while an injury brought Goutos' promising season to a premature end. Hillas, who in track season qualified for IC4As in the 1500-meter, mile and 3000-meter runs, also has a chance to make an immediate impact. Lunn himself was second-team All-Ivy last year and was Yale's top finisher at each of its final three meets.

Juniors Michael Cunetta and Ryan Laemel will also provide veteran leadership as they transition into their roles as upperclassmen. Cunetta was a mainstay among the Elis' top seven last year, finishing third on the team in its final two regular season meets and at Heps.

The sophomore class is comprised of Alec Borsook, Daniel Caballero, Tom Harrison, John McGowan, Matthew Nussbaum, Isa Qasim and Jacob Sandry. Sandry emerged late in the 2011 season as one of the Bulldogs' top runners with strong showings at Heps and Regionals, and McGowan is coming off a track season in which he set the Yale freshman mile record and barely missed the freshman 1500-meter record.

Finally, nine freshmen are joining the team: Ahmad Aljobeh, Will Wilde Botta, Alex Conner, Kevin Dooney, John Mahoney, Alexander McDonald, Pete Merritt, Max Payson and Duncan Tomlin. Coach Paul Harkins intimated that Conner and Dooney at the moment look most likely to crack the Bulldogs' top seven. Dooney competed in the World Junior Championships this summer in the 10,000-meter run.

The Elis took their summer training quite seriously, with a contingent spending their break in Boulder, Colo., in order to run at altitude. Before setting foot on Yale's grounds, the Bulldogs spent a week in preseason training at a YMCA camp in Woodstock, Conn., with easy access to trails and hills. The camp also afforded the team an opportunity to bond, meet the freshmen and discuss its goals.

To that end, coach Harkins expressed an expectation of improvement upon the team's finishes in the championship meets from a year ago, when the Bulldogs were sixth at Heps and 11th at Regionals.

"I want to build on our progress we made last year," he said. "Both of these goals [of improving at the two championship meets] I feel are very realistic, and I'm excited to get things started…"

Lunn added that he anticipates "some of the best results we have ever achieved as a cross country program here at Yale."

Harkins described his team's condition as "healthy, feeling good and excited" for the season to begin. They will not have to wait long, as they open their season in just more than a week's time at the Fordham Fiasco and Follies Invitational on Sept. 8. The following week, Yale will play host to the annual rivalry meeting with Harvard. Other dates circled on the Bulldogs' calendar are the Paul Short Invitational on Sept. 28, the Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 12, Heps on Oct. 27 and NCAA Regionals on Nov. 9. Yale is co-hosting Regionals this year with Fairfield, and the event page may be found here.

The schedule is a challenging one, but that only leaves Lunn all the more excited and optimistic about his team.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Yale cross country will be a very strong force in the Ivy League this year, and with invitationals like Paul Short and Wisconsin on our schedule, we expect to make our presence known at the national level as well."

Report by Eian Katz '13