In most sports, it’s the team with the highest number of points that is named victor. However, in cross country, just the opposite is true. In its unique scoring system, each runner is assigned a point value equal to the place in which he or she finishes. The team’s total score is then determined by adding together the points from each of the top five runners. Therefore, a score of 15 meaning the team has taken the top five spots in a race is the goal every team reaches for.

This past weekend at the Harry Anderson Invitational at Roberts Wesleyan College, the men’s cross country team came very close to attaining this goal. Totaling just 21 points, the team easily took the championship among the seven teams present. The second-place team, SUNY Geneseo, was far behind with 53 points.

‘It feels pretty good to win for the second week in a row,” freshman Jamie Vavra said. ‘It’s always nice when you start out the season with wins. It gives us more confidence continuing through the season.”

The Yellowjackets earned their 21 points by having runners finish in the first, second, fifth, sixth and seventh positions in a field of 80 runners. Leading the team was junior Tyle Stelzig, who finished the 8-kilometer, or approximately 5-mile, course in just 26:26.4, giving him an average pace of 5:19 per mile.

Sophomore Brian Lang finished just behind Stelzig, running a time of 26:34.3 for second place overall. In the five-six-seven positions were sophomore Jon Pinto, with a time of 26:46.6, Vavra, at 27:04.4, and freshman Jason Zayac, who crossed the finish right behind Vavra in 27:05.5.

Pinto commented on the advantage of having such valuable freshmen.

‘The vast majority of the team is freshmen and sophomores,” he said. ‘We have a lot of time to gain experience and really use our potential in the years to come.”

Not only did UR have five runners in the top seven spots, but its sixth and seventh runners, the tiebreakers, also finished in the top 10 of the field. Senior Dan Chebot placed eighth with a time of 27:16.8, and sophomore Craig Baumgartner finished ninth in 27:20.2.

‘Our greatest strength is definitely our depth,” Vavra said. ‘We have a lot of guys who run really close together, so if one guy has a bad race, another can cover for him.”

The team’s gap time the time between the first and fifth runner was just 39.1 seconds. Keeping this time low is essential for cross country teams, as a tight pack blocks out runners from other teams.

The women’s team also experienced success on Saturday, placing second of seven teams. The ‘Jackets totaled 53 points overall, falling to Laurentian Univerisity a university in northeastern Ontario that accumulated 31 points.

Despite the fact that she has been battling an injury for the past few weeks, freshman Lauren Norton was the Yellowjackets’ first finisher, taking seventh overall in the field of 85. She finished the 5-kilometer race in 19:42.4. Crossing the line one second after her was sophomore Sadie Gollub, who placed eighth.

The perennial tight and talented pack of runners from the class of 2010 continued with junior Heather Graham, who finished in 12th place overall with a time of 20:04.8. Junior Lisa Cole then placed 13th with a time of 20:11.5, and junior Allie McComb finished out the scoring group of five with a 16th-place finish in a time of 20:22.8.

Both of UR’s tiebreakers also finished in the top 20 junior Suzanne Giunta finished the course in 20:26.0 for 18th place, and freshman Hillary Snyder finished 19th overall with a time of 20:34.8.

The Yellowjackets have an advantage in the size of its team.

‘The majority of our team from last year is back plus some great freshmen and a few first time upperclassmen runners who are in the mix, as well,” Graham said.

Norton attributed the women’s team’s strength to its depth, too.

‘We had our top seven girls within a minute of each other, which was really amazing,” she said.

In addition, there were only two minutes between the first runner and the 15th runner.
‘We have a very talented and dedicated team this year,” Graham said. ‘Everyone brings something to the table.”

This weekend, the ‘Jackets will stay local again, competing in the Geneseo Invitational at Letchworth State Park.

Last year, the men placed third of 15 teams at the invitational, and the women placed fourth out of 12 teams. A challenging field, including SUNY Geneseo’s ‘A” team, will be present.

‘The goals for future races are be competitive and run the best we can,” Vavra said. ‘We are one of the best teams in the area. We just need to prove it to everyone else.”
When asked what his goals for future races were, Pinto made his answer to the question short and sweet.

‘[Our goals are] pain and victory,” he said.

Philbrick is a member of the class of 2009.

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