Bulldogs Enter 2013 Season With High Hopes and Expectations

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The Yale men's cross country team. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Improved Upperclassmen and Incoming Freshmen Seek to Lift Team to Greater Heights

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—The 2012 season saw the Yale men's cross country team post its best finish at the NCAA Division I Regional Championships since 2007 while also placing sixth at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships for the second consecutive year. Now, with a more experienced core of veterans and an exciting freshman class, the Bulldogs hope the 2013 season will bring even greater success. 

"My goal for the program this year is to continue to improve upon where we finished last year and to continue to raise our level of expectations," said Head Men's Cross Country and Middle Distance Coach Paul Harkins. "Our guys believe that we are on the road towards becoming one of the best programs in the conference."

Junior Ryan Laemel, the team's captain, shares Harkins' enthusiasm. 

"We, as a program, made big strides last year," he said. "By the end of the season, we moved up in the northeast region's rankings and showed the northeast and nation we were on the verge of a major breakthrough. With our hard work this summer, Coach Harkins being in his third year at Yale and the addition of a talented recruiting class, I believe our squad is ready to complete our breakthrough. We are ready to compete on the national level."

Laemel won the junior varsity race at the New England Championships last season and was also first on the team and second overall at the CCSU Mini-Meet. Besides Laemel, however, three other seniors provide the Bulldogs with leadership and experience: Michael Cunetta, Miles Richardson and James Shirvell. Shirvell will be the Elis' track and field captain this year after setting the fourth-fastest 1,500-meter personal record in Yale history and competing at the NCAA Division I National Championships last season. 

The Bulldogs' roster also includes six juniors: Alec Borsook, Tom Harrison, John McGowan, Matthew Nussbaum, Isa Qasim and Jacob Sandry. McGowan has emerged as one of the Elis' top all-around runners, finishing in Yale's top seven in all six cross country meets in which he competed last season and placing second on the team at Regionals. Meanwhile, Nussbaum—a USTFCCCA All-Academic honoree last year—led the Bulldogs at five of the six cross country races in which he competed, placed first at the Fordham Fiascoes meet, earned All-Ivy honors for his 10th-place finish at Heps and recorded the fastest 8K time by a Yale runner in more than four years. Sandry also put together a strong 2012 campaign, placing first on the team and 10th overall at the New England Championships and ending the season with the second-fastest 8K time on the team.

The Elis also have a talented sophomore group, headlined by last year's freshman phenom: Kevin Dooney. Dooney finished in Yale's top seven four times during the cross country season, was one of just two freshmen to break 25 minutes in the 8K and recorded the fifth-fastest personal record in Yale history in the 10,000-meters and the 11th-fastest in the 5,000-meters. Despite Dooney's success, however, it was actually Alex Conner that recorded the fastest 8K time (24:42.1) among the freshmen last season, and he will look to improve on that time this year. 

Sophomores Ahmad Aljobeh, Will Botta, Max Payson and Duncan Tomlin will also seek to lower their times this year, now with a full season under their belts. Payson primarily made his mark as a middle-distance track runner last year, and he was a member of 4x800-meter relay team that placed second against Harvard and Princeton. Tomlin finished fourth on the team at the New England Championships and emerged as the Elis' 3,000-meter steeplechase specialist during the track season, placing first at Harvard-Yale and the Yale Springtime Invitational and setting his personal record at Heps.

Finally, the Bulldogs have brought in six freshmen to join the cross country team, and the group is brimming with potential and upside. ESPN named Dan Grosvenor (Cabot, Vt.) its Gatorade State Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year following his remarkable senior season—his first year running cross country.

Andre Ivankovic (Clemson, S.C.), meanwhile, was named the 2013 Male Track Athlete of the Year by Independent Mail after leading D.W. Daniel High School to a state championship and number one overall state ranking. He finished the season undefeated and as the top-ranked individual in the state—and was named South Carolina Runner of the Year as a result.

Tim Cox (Acton, Mass.) helped his high school win both indoor and outdoor Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association track and field titles and was a nine-time All-Conference honoree in cross country and track.

California native Ryan Douglas made a name for himself as a track star at Petaluma High School, where he helped the team win the 2013 Sonoma County League Championship by finishing first in the 800-meter and 1,600-meter runs.

From nearby New Canaan, Conn., James Randon was a three-time New Balance Nationals All-American and a national runner-up in the two-mile at New Balance Outdoor Nationals.

Spike Sievert (Bellevue, Wash.) captained his high school cross country and track teams, finishing fifth at the Washington 3A State Cross Country Championships and being named first team all-league and all-district. 

The team's enthusiasm surrounding the upcoming season is understandable, given the combination of the Elis' success last season and its impressive freshman class.

"This year, we hope to see our program's first Nationals berth in its history," said Laemel. "We are going to make Yale a team that both competes at a high level, like we have in the past, and vies for wins at major races. We are setting our sights high this year." 

The Bulldogs open their season in Boston on Sept. 14 against Harvard, and, a week later, head to New York City for the Iona Meet of Champions. In October, the Elis will also run at the Paul Short Invitational, the New England Championships, Pre-Nationals and the CCSU Mini-Meet. The postseason, including Heps and Regionals, begins in November.

"Our first goal is to start off our season with a win against Harvard," said Laemel. "Our second goal is to perform well and vie for high-place finishes at major invitationals, like the Iona Meet of Champions in New York, the Paul Short Invitational in Pennsylvania—where we hope to improve upon last year's seventh-place finish—and Pre-Nationals. Our final goals are to place in the top three at the Ivy League Championships and qualify for the Nationals meet by running well at the Northeast Regional." 

Harkins, who has touted both the experience of his upperclassmen and the strength of his freshmen, summed up the team's hopes headed into the season.

"I believe this will be a great year for Yale Men's Cross Country," he said. 

Report by Zach Schloss '15, Yale Sports Publicity