Women’s Cross Country to Defend National Ranking

The Yale women's cross country team (credit Jim Hudson).
The Yale women's cross country team (credit Jim Hudson).

2013 Cross Country Season Begins Sept. 14

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—The past two years have been successful ones for the Yale women's cross country team. While the team boasted a top-four finish at Heps and a top-six finish at Regionals during 2011, the 2012 cross country season was most notable for the team's No. 22 ranking in the national poll, conducted by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association. The ranking was well-deserved, as the team flew by many nationally-ranked teams at competitive meets such as the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational and Paul Short Invite.

Though the team's frontrunners—such as 2013 captain, Millie Chapman—were of no small consequence to the season's success, the 2012 team was also one of depth in which all members were crucial. The Bulldogs seem to be headed in a similar direction this year, as many of last year's stars will be returning, joined by a new class of freshmen.  As captain, Chapman understands how important a cohesive effort is to the team, saying, "I am really excited about the team this year. A lot of the underclassmen really stepped up this summer and got in great training, not to mention the incredibly talented freshman class that has joined us."

Sophomore Emily Stark was one newcomer last year who significantly contributed to the team effort—finishing in third for the Bulldogs at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. Other sophomores who will start their second year of competition include Elizabeth McDonald and Shannon McDonnell, both of whom saw many triumphs during the indoor/outdoor track seasons last year.

Juniors Anna Demaree and Kira Garry were two of seven to assist in the team's seventh-place finish at the NCAA Northeast Regional meet last year. The pair will likely make essential contributions as the season progresses. Fellow juniors Hannah Alpert and Alyssa Laguardia will also be returning.

Senior Liana Epstein—a standout during her three previous years on the team—will be returning this year carrying a long list of accolades with her. For the previous season alone, Epstein was named All-Northeast as well as awarded Division I Cross Country All-Academic Status. In addition, she won the annual Harvard-Yale dual meet, aiding the team in its second consecutive win over Harvard. Moreover, her 25th place finish at last year's regional meet was central to the team's overall seventh-place finish, and the best finish of any Bulldog. Other seniors returning to the team for their final collegiate races include Sarah Barry—who helped the team to a fourth-place finish at the Paul Short Invite and a first-place finish at the CCSU Mini-Meet last year—as well as Wendy DeWolf and Rachel O'Driscoll.

These upperclassmen will make for a well-rounded squad, "similar to the team last year," says Head Women's Cross Country Coach Amy Gosztyla. Emphasizing the importance of the Bulldog's depth and cohesion, Gosztyla expressed sentiments similar to Chapman's, mentioning the extra training many upperclassmen undertook this past summer and the enthusiasm surrounding the team's first meet. "I'm excited for this group of returners," she stated, "I think we have a very strong front pack, as well as some others who really stepped it up this summer."

Coach Gosztyla also enumerated the team's specific goals for the season, including a top-five finish at Regionals—narrowly missed by a single position in 2012—as well as finishing in the top half of the Ivy League—a goal just achieved last year. Neither of these objectives will come easily, as the Northeast Region comprises tough teams who are "all likely to be close together" competitively. Yale enters the season ranked No. 9 regionally in the USTFCCCA National Coaches' Poll—just above No. 10 Brown, and looking to overcome many fellow Ivies, including No. 2 Cornell, No. 4 Harvard, No. 7 Columbia and No. 8 Dartmouth.

Of course, the team's returning members will not have to carry the season's expectations all on their own, as seven collegiate rookies will take to the starting line this year. Gosztyla called the freshmen class "very strong," and mentioned the newest members' ability to "add depth this year," revealing that she believes the class "bodes well for the future of the program." 

The class of 2017 includes such impressive freshmen as Chandler Olson (Woodinville, Wash.)—likely to be a frontrunner among the incoming freshmen—who enters the season with 5k personal record of 17:56. Rachel Jones (Carrollton, Texas) holds a similarly impressive high-school record, including a personal best of 4:54 in the 1,600m—a time that won her the Texas Relays in 2012. 

In addition, Meredith Rizzo of Bronxville, N.Y.—a state champion from 2008-2011— is another Bulldog who brings notable accomplishments to her first season. Emily Waligurski (Hurley, N.Y.) joins the team with a diverse repertoire of distance events to her name. Other new recruits such as Emily Barnes (Louisville, Colo.), Jennie Callan (San Francisco, Calif.) and Delaney FitzPatrick (Minocqua, Wisc.) qualified for their state meets multiple times during their high school careers.

As for Chapman, she will likely continue to lead the cross country team in both its races and in the various other challenges the 2013 season will bring. Among her many impressive performances last year was a strong finish at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational. Chapman was first to complete the race out of seven of the team's best runners. She also won the Fordham Fiasco meet held in Van Cortlandt Park—where this year's NCAA Regional meet will be run. This practice on the course will hopefully give the Bulldogs a competitive advantage—something that is most certainly a top priority as they enter championship meets later in the year. Chapman also mentioned the team's hopes for the season, described by Coach Gosztyla above, saying, "Our goal as a team is to keep improving throughout the season and peak at the end when the meets are most important."  With a plan in mind and lead by Chapman and Coach Gosztyla, the team will begin its season with the 2013 dual meet with Harvard on Sept. 14 in Boston's Franklin Park.

Report by Maria Seravalli '16, Yale Sports Publicity