Led by head coach James McCowan, both the men and women of Vassar College’s cross country program are having remarkable seasons, proving their abilities in multitudes of races so far. Runners from each team hope to maintain their impressive times in order to reach success this weekend at the Liberty League Championships in Geneva, NY.
Retaining its top seven runners from last year, the men’s team has been set up for success this season. The group has been victorious since the moment the season began, finishing first out of three teams at Vassar’s season starter in September. The Brewers have continued to keep their squad at the front as they finished with impressive ranks at four different invitationals. At their last meet, the Rowan University Interregional, the Brewers finished 13th out of an enormous 43 teams.
Vital competitor, junior Michael Scarlett, has contributed greatly to Vassar’s success since his introduction to Vassar. Last season, in just his sophomore year, he placed first for the Brewers in every single race that he ran, and was awarded the spot of most valuable player. “Michael has been our first runner across the line since the start of the 2015 season,” McCowan explained. “He holds a long and consistent stretch at the front.”
This year has proved to be the same, as Scarlett continues to lead the Brewers to success in each of their races. At the season starter, he earned the top spot for Vassar, finishing with a time of only 13:04.0, maintaining a 5:15.4 mile pace. Scarlett continued to upkeep his impressive pace through the next few meets as well. This impressive streak means that Scarlett has been the first runner across the finish line for the past 13 races in a row, the lengthiest streak for a runner since Avi Kramer, who did the same in Vassar’s 2003-2004 season.
Freshmen have had a significant impact on the team already, pushing runners to lower their times while achieving outstanding feats themselves as well. McCowan said confidently. “While the middle of season is traditionally a tough time for newcomers as they adjust to the training and work load, I’ve been really happy with their effort and contributions.”
Freshman Adin Becker has exceeded all expectations, consistently placing in the top five spots for the Brewers. “He has handled the transition well, as he was used to running a higher volume in high school,” McCowan praised. Despite a long-lasting injury, he has raked in many awards in just his first year of collegiate athletics. Becker has won the Eastern College Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week honors and Liberty League Rookie of the Week honors, three times each.
“I’m ecstatic to have been named Rookie of the Week three times,” Becker comments. “At the start of the season, I was skeptical that I would be able to race at all since I had been injured for so long. But now it looks like I’m almost back at 100 percent.”
This season, the men are ranked higher in the region than they ever have before, and they don’t intend on letting their successful journey end soon. They recently ranked No. 7 in the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Atlantic Regional polls, the team’s best since 2013.
“This season, we’ve seen huge advancements from everyone on the team, putting us in a great spot as we head into championship season.” Scarlett explained. “We’re really excited to put guys on the line for the ECAC and Regional Championships, and to see how we stack up against some of the best teams in the country.”
Success at the Liberty League Championship is not out of reach for the Brewers. “The crowning race ahead is the NCAA Atlantic Region Championships, from which teams or individuals can advance to nationals, based on how well we finish,” McCowan stated. “At the Rowan Interregional Battle, the men finished seventh out of all the Atlantic Region teams, and ahead of two national ranked programs. That is a perfect set up for the remainder of the season. Now it all comes down to how well we race at Regionals.”
The women’s cross country team has been met with a season of success as well. They too have been finishing in the top places of their races, starting by finishing second of three teams at the Vassar season starter. Continuing on, they reached success at early invitationals and placed in second at the Seven Sisters Championships.
“While we were not satisfied with placing second, we raced well and went for the goal.” The team acknowledges that this was an important learning experience for them however, learning what they need to work on in order to find success in upcoming championship races.
Senior Lucy Balcezak had a standout performance at the Seven Sisters, as well as in the rest of her career. Despite missing her junior year, she has picked up her career right where she left it. She finished fifth for Vassar at Wellesley, running the course in a personal best, 22:51.1. “Junior year abroad returner Lucy Balcezak continued to be at the front of the races for our team, and seeing her continue to improve is fantastic.”
Coach McCowan tells that every freshman is an excellent addition to the team, all stepping up significantly to contribute to the team since their arrival in the fall. “Meghan Cook, Caroline Hartman and Erin Clark have all been consistent top seven finishers,” he specifies, “which is admirable given the adjustments of freshman year. Continuing to transition to college level competition will be key to our team succeeding in the big races ahead.” All have achieved impressive times in the completed meets.
While both the men’s and women’s teams have been to the course in Geneva before, it was many years ago. None of the present members of either team have ran on the course there in their time at Vassar. “Seven Sisters was excellent prep for that, as it gave us an opportunity to preview a new course the night before the race.” The Brewers will take on the same cast of teams, including RPI and Saint Louis University. The Brewers will contend for a winning place in the Liberty League Championship in Geneva, NY this Friday, Oct. 29.