Elizabeth Brown - Staff Photographer

Last Saturday, amidst the cold rain and mud in Genesee Valley Park, the UR cross country teams gritted their teeth and ground their way through a grueling race against tough interdivisional and international competition. The men and women emerged from the rain with a strong finish in their only home race of the season.

The men’s team captured an overall victory in the field of 16 teams, with a score of 42 points over competition such as the University of Western Ontario, Cornell University, SUNY Geneseo, SUNY Oswego and RIT.  Leading the Yellowjackets over the slippery, torn up eight-kilometer course was the duo of Take Five Scholar Frank Ramirez and senior Jamie Vavra, who took third and fourth overall in an identical 26:26.

Sophomore Adam Pacheck (sixth, 26:36), senior Jason Zayac (14th, 27:02) and sophomore John Bernstein (15th, 27:06) completed the scoring for UR, while freshman Mark Rollfs (24th, 27:30) and senior Andrew Fleisher (28th, 27:35) were the home team’s displacers.

The muddy conditions of the course actually benefitted the game plan of now-27th ranked ’Jackets, who took the race out slowly, focused on moving toward the front of the pack and held off the competition in the middle and later miles. With Vavra and Ramirez up front controlling the pace, the remaining runners were able to claw their way into the positions that guaranteed a team victory over other talented teams on the technically challenging course.

“The wet and sloppy conditions were a good test for us at this point in the season,” coach John Izzo said. “The experience gained will be valuable should the championship meets prove to have similar conditions.”

Aside from the top seven, the remaining Yellowjackets were quick to buttress the performance of their leaders.  With six more runners coming in the following 15 places behind Fleisher, and a total of 23 runners finishing in the top 100 (of 187), the UR men put up a “great effort,” as Coach Izzo said, from first man to last.

Likewise, the UR women had a great performance at the Yellowjacket Invitational in spite of adverse conditions.  The team finished fifth out of 13 teams with a score of 152 points, beating SUNY Cortland, RIT and other strong regional programs. Leading the ’Jackets was junior Zarah Quinn, who placed 24th in the 5K race with a time of 19:43. Not far behind Quinn were senior Hillary Snyder (26th, 19:47), sophomore Danielle Bessette (29th, 19:56),  junior Meg Ogle (60th, 21:02), freshman Michelle McLaughlin (61st, 21:05), freshman Victoria Stepanova (64th, 21:09), senior Meg Battin (72nd, 21:18) and sophomore Kate Thomas (74th, 21:25).

“I thought the women’s team had a very positive attitude about the race despite the wind, rain and muddy conditions,” coach Barb Hartwig said. “They concentrated on competing against the other runners instead of worrying about their pace. As a whole group, I felt most people had good efforts.”

As a side note, the UR Alumni fielded a strong team to compete in the mud.  Megan O’Connor  ’11 was 40th in the women’s race, while Danny Mueller took 17th in the men’s race, leading a team of 13 men reaching as far back as Alex Voetsch ’04 to a fifth place finish in the men’s race.

“We used to run fast, and we still do,” Nick Roosa ’07 said.

The Yellowjackets begin their championship run this weekend at the New York State Collegiate Track Conference Championship Meet at St. Lawrence University on Saturday, and both the men’s and women’s teams are eager to begin preparing for top performances as the Regional and National Championships begin to come into view.

Lane is a Take Five Scholar.

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