Team Returns to Van Cortlandt Park with High Hopes
NEW HAVEN, Conn.—After putting together a solid fifth-place showing at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships (Heps) two weeks ago, the Yale men's cross country team will embark for New York City this week, as the Bulldogs prepare to compete in the Division I NCAA Northeast Regional Championships at Van Cortlandt Park on Friday. The outcome of Regionals determines which schools and individual athletes get the chance to compete at the Division I NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 23.
At Regionals, the Bulldogs will be running alongside 38 other schools in the region, including Ivy rivals Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Harvard, as well as out-of-conference teams like Boston University, Central Connecticut State University, Iona, Northeastern, Providence and Syracuse. Iona (ranked seventh in the country), Columbia (eighth) and Syracuse (14th) will be the favorites entering the race. Yale will be seeking to improve on its eighth-place finish at last year's Regionals—its best showing since 2007.
"We are ranked seventh in the region, and I expect us to finish at least in that position," said Head Men's Cross Country Coach Paul Harkins. "That would be our highest finish since 2004, but we are always looking ahead to the teams ranked above us."
For the Bulldogs, Friday's race will be its second at Van Cortlandt Park this season, as they took second place on the course at the Iona Meet of Champions in their second race of the season. This time around, the Elis should be especially well-rested, after not competing last weekend. This time off could prove essential, as the team will be running a 10K race at Regionals, as opposed to the more usual 8K races the squad has been running for most of the season.
Yale will send seven runners—all of whom set personal records in their last race at Heps—to New York for the race. To this point in the season, sophomore Alex Conner, sophomore Kevin Dooney and junior John McGowan have been the team's most consistent performers. Conner and McGowan have finished in the team's top three in every race in which they have competed this season and will have the added benefit of having competed at last year's Regionals, where they placed fourth and second, respectively. Dooney, meanwhile, has led the team (and set personal records) at three separate races this season—including Heps, where he ran an impressive 23:56.6.
"Dooney has been running fantastic the last couple of meets, and McGowan, Conner and the rest have been really strong as well," Harkins said.
Senior Michael Cunetta, junior Isa Qasim, freshman James Randon and sophomore Duncan Tomlin have all recorded their fair share of top-seven team finishes this season, and they will all be seeking to score for the Elis in Friday's race. Qasim—who finished sixth on the team at last year's Regionals—enters this year's race with a bit of momentum, after recording a 24:29.4 and placing fourth on the team at Heps two weeks ago. Randon finished just a few seconds behind Qasim at Heps and could be a runner to watch at Regionals, given his second-place team finishes at the Harvard-Yale and Iona Meet races earlier this season. Tomlin and Cunetta finished sixth and seventh on the team, respectively, at Heps, and Tomlin has finished in the team's top seven in all five races in which he has competed this season.
Looking ahead to Friday, Harkins predicted that the length of the race could provide some of his runners with a unique advantage—one that could perhaps even help extend the Elis' season.
"I feel the 10K distance will play to the strengths of guys like Dooney, Conner and Qasim, as they are true 10K-type runners," he said. "If we get a couple of guys in the top 25, it will give them a legitimate shot at qualifying for the NCAA Championships."
The teams that finish in the top two in each of the nine regional championships receive automatic bids for the NCAA Championships. The 13 remaining at-large bids are distributed based on a combination of regional finish and regular season performances. For teams that do not qualify for the NCAA Championships, their individual athletes can still earn bids by finishing in the top 25 at their respective regional championships and either being one of the top four runners at their regional championships on a non-qualifying team or being one of two final athletes selected from the rest of the nationwide pool. A comprehensive explanation of NCAA National Championship selection procedures is available here.
Report by Zach Schloss '15, Yale Sports Publicity