Playoff time is here. This Saturday, Oct. 27, the Vassar men’s and women’s cross country teams competed in the Liberty League Championships in Potsdam, NY, both programs bidding for their first league titles. While neither program ultimately brought home the championship, the men’s and women’s teams finished fifth and third respectively, each boasting strong individual performances and impressive teamwork indicative of the groups’ positive team culture and unity.
The men’s team had hoped for better than a fifth-place finish. Head Coach James McCowan said: “The men’s race went a bit flat for us, and we didn’t finish as high up as we would have liked. From what we could see it looked like everyone was engaged and racing tough, we just didn’t quite get out well enough in the first two miles to be in range to close down on our rivals.”
Yet even in disappointment, the group managed some solid individual performances, with multiple runners on the cusp of earning Liberty League Honorable Mentions—given to runners who finish between 15th and 21st. Both sophomore Peter Ferreter and senior Luke Arsenault came close to the Honorable Mention mark, with Ferreter finishing 22nd and Arsenault 24th, just three seconds behind.
Ferreter ran hard to start the race, trying to stay in contention with a powerhouse RPI squad that would ultimately win the title for the third consecutive year, but was eventually outpaced. Vassar also flashed its potential for the future as the team’s top five performers included onetime Liberty League Rookie of the Week winner Jack Casalino and sophomore Gerald Dolan alongside Ferretter.
While a fifth-place finish is not what the Brewers had hoped for, McCowan believes that explaining the team’s Saturday performance reveals a reason for optimism as the team looks forward. Diagnosed McCowan of the disappointing result: “This happened to us last year as well, and might be the result of some tired legs at the starting line. In order to stay sharp to run our best at Regionals in two weeks we have to maintain some solid training in the lead up to Leagues.” Tired legs one week might mean success two week later. “Last year,” continued McCowan, “[training hard before Leagues] worked well with the men really rising to the occasion at Regionals and improving on our League finish to catch Ithaca at the Regional meet. I know these guys are now motivated to try to replicate that success this season.”
On the women’s side of the Liberty League Championships, Vassar finished third overall thanks to strong team chemistry and effort. The team rolled into the weekend on the back of an impressive season to date, the Brewers having won four of their five meets this fall. Especially after an impressive victory at the final Seven Sisters Championships two weeks prior, the Brewers entered this Saturday’s event with aplomb. “I’d say we were pretty confident coming off the win at Seven Sisters that we could perform well,” said senior Kate Lawson. “The course was nice and quick, and we were all excited to run fast and compete.”
Senior Cameron Daddis’ optimism stemmed from the team’s track record against other Liberty League programs. “So far we’ve proven that we can compete with teams like RIT, which has given us some confidence going into Leagues,” detailed Daddis. Some of that confidence came from Vassar’s performance at the Seven Sisters meet, an extra special win for the senior, who explained, “My favorite moment of the season so far has been winning the last Seven Sisters Championship. This race has meant much to our team and to all of the women from the competing schools…I am so glad we were able to bring home the trophy to Vassar for good.”
The team’s depth and togetherness have driven their achievements leading up to the Liberty League Championships. “One of the big factors in our success this year has been having a really healthy team culture and supporting each other to do what we need to do,” said Lawson. McCowan echoed his senior runner, adding, “The women’s commitment to our values, to each other, and to giving their best effort for the benefit of the team is really what has made [the group] so great.”
The success of the Brewers in their races has relied on this same unity, explained Lawson, who elaborated, “We don’t really have a front-runner like a lot of other competitive teams, so we rely on having a pack that can stick together on every course.” The Brewers have displayed this balance throughout the year, with different runners comprising Vassar’s top five from race to race.
The roots of the group’s pack mentality can be found in the customs of the program. “To prepare for races late in the season, we go out for dinner the night before and carbo load. No word on how effective that actually is, but it’s tradition,” said Lawson. The idea of the pack is also something the team focuses on in their day-to-day preparation. “Since that’s how we always run at practice,” added Lawson, “I think it translates well to racing, and we can all kind of have the same mentality in races that we have in lower pressure workouts.”
This pack identity shone through once again at the Liberty League Championships for Vassar, as five Brewers finished in the top 25, four finishing high enough for at least Honorable Mention. Seniors Daddis, Megan Horn and Christiana Prater-Lee all finished in the top 21, while sophomore Hannah Martin led the Brewers with a ninth place overall finish, earning her Second Team All-League honors. With a third place finish under their belts in the league championships, the team now sets its sights on the regional meet, where they hope to earn a nationals bid. With senior leadership complemented by young talent, there is ample potential for Vassar to continue to grow and improve. As each team looks to finish out their season strong, let’s hope they keep carbo-loading for success.