As a stream of blue crossed the finish line, the men’s cross country team took command in their first meet of the season. All seven of the Yellowjackets’ runners placed in the top 11, and the scorers – the top five runners – all placed in the top eight, giving UR a score of 29 and leading them to a dominating win over Rochester Institute of Technology, Hamilton College and SUNY Fredonia.

“Winning the first meet was definitely a great note on which to start our season,” freshman Jon Pinto said. “The meet itself was relatively inconsequential, but it’s always good for a team to come out strong as a confidence booster.”

“It’s great to start off with a win. The first meet of the season is always the least important as our training is designed to have us running best in November,” fifth year senior Nick Roosa said. “To win comfortably at this point in the season is a great sign for where we can be in November.”

Senior Patrick Hughes noted that this team is very different than previous years with their winning start to the season.

“The cross country team is notorious for poor performances early in the season,” Hughes said. “Our efforts from Saturday’s meet demonstrate that we are much stronger now than we have been in many years.”

First to come in for the ‘Jackets was senior Mark Stevens, who, despite just recovering from an injury sustained during last year’s track season, placed third overall in a field of 76. He finished the eight kilometer course in 26:17.

UR then took spots five through eight to block any chance of a victory from their competitors. Senior Pat Hughes was the second finisher for the Yellowjackets, coming in at 26:44.

Right behind him was the threesome of senior Dan Mueller, Roosa and freshman Brian Lang, all crossing the finish at 26:45, giving the ‘Jackets a gap time of a mere 28 seconds.

“Our pack running was phenomenal. We had almost everyone grouped together with a few other teammates for almost the entire race,” Pinto said. “This kind of running makes pace control infinitely easier, and working as a group in the last parts of a race is a big help when trying to push harder.”

The displacers were Pinto, who finished 10th with a time of 27:02, and junior Dan Chebot at 11th in 27:22.

The depth of this year’s team promises to improve its strength, with 15 new freshmen and four returning seniors, there’s much to be expected from the group.

“This team is training at a level it never has before. Several of our top runners were running over 100 miles per week throughout the summer,” Roosa said. “We have a group of veterans… who will do whatever it takes to be the best they can.”

“Our team depth and cohesiveness will be our greatest assets this year,” Stevens said. “We have a lot of talented incoming freshmen, a lot of guys that stepped up their game, and a tight group of guys.”

Chebot expects the men’s team to only continue to improve in the upcoming weeks.

“I expect our pack to run consistently faster each week and for our national ranking to improve in light of this,” he said.

While UR did well at the meet last weekend, they are still looking to improve, as they will be facing much tougher competition in the future.

“It’s always good to start the season on a strong note. However, anyone will tell you that you don’t put too much stock in an opener,” Stevens said.

The women’s cross country team also outran its competition by far at the meet on Saturday. With three finishers in the top 10, the Yellowjackets totaled 36 points, placing ahead of Hamilton with 53, RIT with 61 and SUNY Fredonia with 76. The win was especially sweet due to the fact that all three teams beat UR at the conference meet last season.

“We were very pleased to win on Saturday,” head coach Barbara Hartwig said. “It’s a positive way to start the season and sets the tone for the remainder of the year.”

“It was amazing to win our first meet,” sophomore Heather Graham said. “It was a huge confidence boost for the team and showed us that all the miles we put in over the summer and during preseason have paid off.”

Seniors Kellie Hasselwander and Laura Richenderfer led the team with a two-three finish in a field of 57. Hasselwander crossed the line of the five-kilometer course at 20:15, and Richenderfer came in 10 seconds later at 20:25.

“Kellie got out pretty aggressively and ran comfortably until the end when the heat started to get to her. The heat was a challenge for everyone, and I thought we held up pretty well,” Hartwig said.

Graham was third for the team and eighth overall with a finish at 21:02.

“Heather Graham is in her second season of cross country and ran so much faster than her first effort of last season. She is really starting to believe in herself as a cross country runner and not just a 400 meter runner,” Hartwig said.

Sophomores Lisa Cole and Allie McComb rounded out the scorers placing 11th and 12th, respectively, with finishes at 21:17 and 21:20. The two displacers were also both sophomores, showing the young promise that grew from last year. Hilary Haefner placed sixth for the team and 15th overall with a time of 21:34, and Suzanne Giunta finished 17th overall, clocking in at 21:49. With a gap time of only 1:05, UR’s number of strong runners and pack running is a certain advantage.

“We have a group of eight to 10 girls who have been running very close to each other all preseason and that depth and closeness of finishes helped tremendously,” Hartwig said. “With our top two out front, this depth will help us even more in big meets and invitationals.”

The ‘Jackets now look to stay strong for the season. According to Hartwig, working on maintaining the pace and not getting tired out will improve the team.

“We all have to improve on our ability to hold pace through the second and third miles if we want to stay competitive, and we have to not be threatened by the sound of a fast first mile,” she said.

Even though there are much tougher meets ahead, Hartwig has high hopes that the Yellowjacket team will remain right in the mix of top teams.

“I think our team unity is very strong and our will to do better is strong, so I hope we can continue the momentum,” she said. “We face a lot of nationally ranked teams, and we will have to keep our heads together if we want to finish the season strongly.”

This weekend, both teams head to Van Cortland Park in New York City for the New York University Invitational on Saturday.

Philbrick is a member of the class of 2009.

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