The cross country teams headed to Letchworth State Park this weekend to participate in the annual SUNY Geneseo Invitational. Both teams saw improvement over last year’s performances, and the close pack running shown by the men and women alike propelled them to impressive finishes.

The women, who placed a mediocre seventh last year, came in at fourth of 12 teams this time around. With 140 points, they squeaked past Houghton College and were just 18 points behind Alfred University. Geneseo, ranked first in the region, dominated the field with a perfect 15 points.

Leading the Yellowjackets was senior Kellie Hasselwander, who crossed the finish of the six-kilometer race at 23:16.1. This time placed her 14th in a field of 162 runners, some of whom ran unattached to a collegiate team.

After Hasselwander came a slew of UR jerseys. The next four runners finished within 29 seconds of each other. Sophomore Sadie Gollub was the second scorer for the team. She finished 42nd overall with a time of 24:53.9. Less than a second later came sophomore Allie McComb, who finished at 24:54.6 for 43rd place. Fellow sophomore Suzanne Giunta was next for the ‘Jackets, clocking in at 25:19.7 and finishing 51st. Just behind her in 52nd was junior Lauren Jewett, who finished the race in 25:22.8.

The two displacers for the Yellowjackets weren’t much farther behind, with sophomore Lisa Cole placing 54th at a time of 25:30.5 and fellow sophomore Rachel Given finishing in 25:39.5 for 56th place.

The small gap time of the No. 2-No. 7 runners, a miniscule 47 seconds, is one of the biggest strengths of the team this season, especially as this number comes with two top runners missing from the lineup. Senior Laura Richenderfer is still out due to injury, though she is beginning to run again, and sophomore Heather Graham broke her wrist, making her unable to run this weekend. However, the gap between the first and fifth runners is something the team is still working on. At a time of 1:37, less of a distance would significantly improve the team.

“Alfred and Ohio Northern [University] put a ton of people in our gap and that’s what ultimately hurt us,” women’s head coach Barbara Hartwig said. “For example, if we put our 2-5 runners just ahead of Alfred’s third runner, which was only 17 seconds faster, we would have beat them by 30 points, and we are capable of doing this.”

In addition to the close pack running of the team, the depth has been an added benefit. The team has been able to mostly cover the missing help of injured runners, and the members and order of the top seven on the team is in constant fluctuation.

“The switching around doesn’t bother me and I… think it will continue. As long as they keep running strongly, it’s a sign of healthy competition on the team,” Hartwig said. “It’s good to know that if one person falls back a bit, we have the depth to fill in the gap.”

This match was only the third of the season for UR, and there is still much competition to prepare for. However, Hartwig noted that last weekend’s meet helped them along the way.

“We will see several of these teams again at the conference and regional meets, so this was good experience,” she said.

The men’s cross country team also saw improvement over last year’s performance. At last year’s outing, UR placed fifth.

However, this year the Yellowjackets finished near the top, at third of 15 teams, falling behind only Ohio Northern, who is currently ranked 23rd in the country, and Geneseo, who is ranked 20th. The ‘Jackets are ranked at 26th in Division III.

The course was eight kilometers long and mostly flat with one short hill.

The conditions were perfect, as the course was not only flat, but also dry, and the weather was mild with a slight breeze.

First for UR was senior Mark Stevens, who finished the course in 26:21.7 for a solid finish at 14th in a field of 217 runners. A little under four seconds behind him was senior Pat Hughes, who placed 17th overall with a time of 26:25.4.

“I was hoping to run much faster on Saturday, but I put in a hard effort and didn’t let up, so I was pleased with my performance,” Hughes said. “I ran faster than I did on the same course last year at the Geneseo Invitational and at Regionals, so that’s promising.”

Next came a four-man pack of runners for the Yellowjackets.

“The team got out to a great start and had a pack of five in the lead until roughly the 3K mark,” Hughes said.

Junior Dan Chebot was third for the ‘Jackets, finishing in 26:47.0 for 23rd place. Right behind him was senior Nick Roosa, who placed 24th with a time of 26:51.4, and right behind him was senior Dan Mueller in 25th clocking in at 26:51.5.

UR’s first displacer was the last member of the pack. Freshman Jon Pinto placed 26th overall with a time 26:52.2.

“I wanted to be running faster at this point in the season, but this was my first race since being injured two weeks ago, so the mediocre performance is almost expected,” Pinto said.

The second displacer was junior Tom Brekke in 41st place, finishing in 27:19.4.

The gap time between the first and fifth runners was a mere 29.6 seconds, proving just how tight the team is, and, with the first displacer a member of the same pack, the depth of the Yellowjackets will be yet another asset in the future.

This third-place finish comes after intensive early-season training. As the training eases up, the team is likely only to improve.

“Everyone was a little bit tired from two weeks of very hard workouts,” Hughes said. “Once we begin to taper for the championship season, people will begin to perform where I know we are capable of performing.”

This weekend, both teams travel to Hamilton College to compete in the Hamilton Invitational. The following week is the Yellowjacket Invitational at home and then after a week off the team heads into championship competition.

“We have a great team and we are looking forward to the post season when it really starts to count,” Pinto said.

“We ran a couple of high mileage weeks and we are getting really strong,” Hartwig said. “We will drop the mileage down a bit this week and they should feel a little more zip in their legs at the next race.”

Philbrick is a member of the class of 2009.

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