The women’s cross country team continued to prove that their less than stellar performance in the season opening meet was nothing more than some early-season jitters.

After defeating Rochester Institute of Technology and SUNY Fredonia at home on Sept. 13, the team traveled to uncharted territory last weekend to compete in the Allegheny College Invitational.

Despite competing in their first 6,000-meter race of the season on a very difficult and unfamiliar course and against a highly competitive field, the women finished third out of 15-team field.

Only Allegheny and Penn State-Behrend fared better than the Yellowjackets. The host Gators posted a winning score of 28 while the Lions registered a 59.

The team also got its first crack against University Athletic Association rivals Case Western Reserve University and Carnegie Mellon University, two teams they will most likely not face off again until UAA Championships at the end of the season.

“We raced well again, and I felt that we handled the jump to 6,000 meters very well, especially the freshmen and the other people that hadn’t experienced it before,” Head Coach Barbara Hartwig said. “It was also good to see [Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve]. Now we know where we stand against them.”

Aside from the stiff competition, the extra distance and the unfamiliar scenery, the women also had to contend with a very muddy course brought on by rain from Hurricane Isabel earlier in the week.

“What was a difficult course even in the best of circumstances became that much more difficult,” Hartwig said. “As a cross country runner, you have to be prepared for it. And for the most part, everybody was. Our goal was to keep working on our weak points and to accentuate our good points, and by and large I think people did that.”

After finishing second on the team in the previous race, senior Mary LeBrun regained the top spot, finishing the race ninth overall in 23:54.

“Mary made the difficult course look easy,” Hartwig said.

Another encouraging sign was the near elimination of the gap between the top two or three runners and the rest of the team.

“Even though Mary was a full minute ahead of everyone, there were only about 12 seconds separating the rest of the group,” Hartwig said.

Leading the rest of the pack for the women was sophomore Jessica VanBinsbergen, who finished the race in 25:16, good enough for 22nd overall. Just behind her was junior Elizabeth Boerman, who placed 23rd, crossing the line just two seconds behind VanBinsgergen in 25:18.

“Elizabeth showed it wasn’t a fluke last week,” Hartwig said.

Last week’s team leader, senior Erika Wasserstein was 26th, finishing with a time of 25:21. There was a newcomer to the team’s top five this week, as freshman Rebecca Hayes’ time of 25:28 placed her 29th.

“Hayes did great, I asked her to hang with that first group and she did,” Hartwig said. “It worked out very well.”

Several of last week’s top finishers suffered through injuries and illnesses during practice throughout the week.

“I’m most proud of them because they didn’t panic when we had people sick and injured,” Hartwig said. “I spoke to some of the other people on the team individually and said ‘you have to step it up.’ I’m very proud of the fact that some of our runners who hadn’t been in our top five did that this week,” Hartwig said.

As the team continues to prepare for postseason meets, the gap between the top two or three runners has narrowed significantly. Now the next big step will be bringing the next group up to speed with the top group.

With nothing scheduled for the upcoming weekend, the Yellowjackets will continue to prepare for their race at SUNY Geneseo.

“Geneseo is a course that’s not as difficult, but competition is going to be very strong,” Hartwig said.

The same course will host the regional championships at the end of the season, so some of the top teams in the area are expected to show up for the regular season event.

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