With their season coming to a close this past Saturday, both the men and women’s cross country teams were eager and ready for their final race, a muddy contest at Letchworth State Park. Hosted by SUNY Geneseo, the NCAA Atlantic Regionals were a competitive affair. Despite weather conditions from the previous day that affected the course’s terrain, both Brewer teams fared well.
The women’s team took the 14 spot out of 37 teams as five of their runners finished in the top 100. Senior captain Ava Farrell got off to a strong start as she was in 38th place at the 2k marker and catapulted the Brewers up to the 13 spot by the end of the 5k marker. Farrell fell further back in the pack as the race wore on and was eventually passed by freshman teammate Christiana Prater-Lee, who finished no. 60 overall.
Farrell described her experience firsthand: “I went out pretty hard in the first mile, and unfortunately fell off that pace during mile two, but found motivation approaching the last thousand meters when my teammate Christiana and I worked off each other’s pace all the way through the finish. Having just the tiniest bit of motivation and inspiration from a teammate when you’re starting to check out mentally during a race can make all the difference.” Prater-Lee added, “My performance could not have been possible without having Ava in front of me and at my side through the race. She definitely inspired me to give everything I had.”
The Brewers ran an average time of 23:48 on the day, posting 381 points. Despite their finish, they were one point behind Plattsburgh State and three behind Stevens Institute of Technology, which would have put them in 12th place.
Farrell knew this would be her final race of the fall and an important one at that. While she was a bit nervous, her teammates and preparation helped quell those doubts. “I felt pretty confident stepping up to the line Saturday because I knew I had an incredibly solid group of women standing next to me. The ladies I raced with this past weekend have been training for months and months, and have consistently proven themselves to be talented runners,” she explained.
Sophomore Meghan Willcoxon faced unique circumstances as an injury last March halted her running for around four months. “This season was really about re-introducing myself to running and working on adjusting my training and expectations when new challenges were presented. I began with really low mileage at the beginning of the season, supplementing most of my training by biking, swimming and using the elliptical,” she described. Willcoxon had expected to race at the Seven Sisters Championship back in mid-October but faced an unexpected flare-up of her injury. She continued, “A lot of this season involved trial and error: pushing myself to get back, but also figuring out what my body could tolerate in terms of intensity and volume. Going into Regionals with only one other race was certainly unexpected (at no point during the season did I think I would make it to Regionals), but it was also more than I could have hoped for.”
The men’s team achieved similar success on the day, finishing at number 15 out of 40 teams, a seven-slot improvement from last year. Existing weather conditions had many thinking that times would come in a bit slower. This did not deter the team. Senior Colin Hepburn elaborated, “I think that the slow times actually helped me this weekend. My goal was to come through the two-mile mark in about 10:25-10:30, and when I heard my two mile split time, which was just over 11 minutes, I knew I had to throw my time goals out the window. At that point I realized I could no longer worry about the time and needed to focus on racing: passing runners and helping my teammates move up.” Sophomore Michael Scarlett added simply, “Everyone runs on the same course so there are no excuses as far as conditions go.”
The team was led by Scarlett, the first male Vassar runner since 2004 to pace the team in every race in a season. Scarlett finished in the 38 slot with a time of 26:19.3. He spoke to the team’s mindset going in. “We knew we were in a much better place than last year, so we just wanted to see improvement. We had been improving throughout the entire season so we knew we were capable of a solid performance,” he said. Sophomore Jesse Schatz proved an excellent example. Schatz was the number 10 runner for the Brewers in the second race of the season, yet climbed all the way to second slot in the Atlantic Regionals with a time of 27:12.8.
Still, for both the male and female seniors, it was a strange moment as they reflected on what had passed and what potential the program’s young runners bring. “Because we are such a young team, a lot of groundwork was laid to pave the way for success in upcoming seasons. Additionally, both the women and men’s team were really close this year, making practice time together a lot of fun. From a competitive standpoint, it was my most successful season I’ve had at Vassar, which is a nice way to end my XC career,” Farrell reminisced.
Hepburn echoed Farrell’s sentiment: “This season was somewhat bittersweet for me. I got to race with a great group of guys, I could not have asked for a better group to call my friends and teammates…I know we’ve got a lot of budding talent, and I believe that in the next two years our team will be doing big things. As for me, I am happy with the effort I put in this season. Am I hungry for more success, and to run faster and race harder? Absolutely. And that’s what track season is for.”