The Middlebury men's cross country team will vye for its third NESCAC title in program history when Wesleyan hosts the 2015 NESCAC Cross Country Championships this Saturday, October 31 at Long Lane Farm in Middletown, Connecticut. The 33rd annual meet begins with the women's 6-kilometer race at noon followed by the men's 8-kilometer race at 1:00 p.m.
Last year, the Middlebury women edged Williams by nine points to successfully defend their conference title. The Panthers placed the top two runners and three of the top six to win its fifth title in seven years and 13th overall with 38 points. If Middlebury is to hoist the conference trophy again this season, the Panthers must replace three of last year's scoring five, including the top two finishers. First-year Abigail Nadler (Chicago, Ill.) has quickly adjusted to collegiate competition and emerged as a contender for top individual honors. She has four top-five finishes, including a fifth-place showing at the NEICAAA Championship, and a 20th-place finish at Lehigh's Paul Short Invitational. Middlebury also returns a pair of all-conference performers in senior Adrian Walsh (Bozeman, Mont.) and junior Erzsie Nagy (Albion, Maine). Walsh is a two-time First Team All-NESCAC selection, while Nagy was a first-team pick and the NESCAC Rookie of the Year in 2013. As a result, the Panthers have turned in solid team performances, having won the Middlebury Invitational and earned second at the Purple Valley Classic, third at the Albany Invitational, tenth at the NEICAAA Championship, and 19th at the Paul Short Invitational.
The Panthers will face a stiff challenge from Williams, Tufts and Colby. With all five scorers from last year's youthful conference runner-up team returning, the Ephs have won the Purple Valley Classic and the Little Three Championship, while finishing 17th at the Paul Short Invitational. Williams is led by senior Lacey Serletti (Wynnewood, Pa.) and sophomore Victoria Kingham (New York, N.Y.). Both harriers have won races this season with Serletti garnering first place at the Purple Valley Classic and Kingham edging Serletti for top honors at the Little Three Championship. Serletti and Kingham were Second Team All-NESCAC honorees last year, while Kingham was also the NESCAC Rookie of the Year. Junior Hannah Cole (Honeoye Falls, N.Y.) and sophomore Emily Sundquist (Salt Lake City, Utah) join Serletti and Kingham as returning all-conference picks. Both runners have recorded top-10 finishes throughout the season, while sophomore Anna Harleen (Ross, Calif.) turned in a runner-up finish at the Westfield State Invitational.
Tufts has recorded a first-place finish at the Bates Invitational, a runner-up finish at the Connecticut College Invitational and a 16th-place result at the Paul Short Invitational this season. Senior Audrey Gould (Pelham, Mass.) sets the tone for the Jumbos, who look to improve on last year's fifth-place showing. The two-time First Team All-NESCAC honoree and 2012 NESCAC Rookie of the Year won the Bates Invitational and placed eighth at the Connecticut College Invitational. Senior Olivia Beltrani (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.) and junior Kelly Fahey (Winter Park, Fla.) provide depth in the Tufts lineup as both harriers registered top-15 results at the Connecticut College Invitational.
The Mules have been consistent throughout the season, winning the Maine State Championship, taking second at the Bowdoin Invitational and finishing ninth in the Brown Division at the Paul Short Invitational. Colby is paced by senior Alanna McDonough (Andover, Mass.), who is fresh off winning her second straight Maine State Championship on Oct. 17. The Second Team All-NESCAC harrier also placed 18th at the Paul Short Invitational, as she looks to help the Mules move up in the conference standings after last year's fourth-place result, which was the best Colby finish since 2010.
Several individuals will contend for top honors in a deep field, as seven of the top ten competitors from last year are returning. In addition to the runners already mentioned, other individuals vying for the title include Amherst first-year Lizzie Lacy (San Mateo, Calif.) and junior Savanna Gornisiewicz (Pompano Beach, Fla.), and Connecticut College junior Ashley Curran (Franklin, Mass.). Eleven of the last 13 medalist honorees have been from Amherst or Williams.
The Williams men are in search of their eighth conference crown in ten years and 15th overall following last year's championship performance in Middlebury, Vermont. The Ephs ran away from the field after having three runners finish in the top four en route to 39 points. Williams graduated two of those three harriers, including the first-place finisher, but senior Bijan Mazaheri (Wellesley, Mass.) and sophomore Ben Decker (Yarmouth, Maine) lead a deep squad eager to capture its third straight title. Mazaheri, who finished third a year ago, has been the top Eph finisher throughout the season, placing second at the Purple Valley Classic and the Little Three Championship. The 2012 NESCAC Rookie of the Year and two-time All-NESCAC runner also finished seventh at the Paul Short Invitational, which was first among Division III competitors. Decker returns as the reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year. He has followed up his rookie campaign by placing third at the Little Three Championship and ninth at the Purple Valley Classic. Both harriers helped the Ephs win the Little Three Championship title on Oct. 17, place second at the Purple Valley Classic, and finish 13th at the Paul Short Invitational on Oct. 2.
Williams will need to get past a very strong field that includes Amherst, Bates, Wesleyan, Tufts and Hamilton if the Ephs hope to claim their 15th overall conference trophy. The Jeffs have climbed up the team standings each of the last two years, placing seventh in 2013 and fourth in 2014, and look to continue the trend as they aim to win their first-ever NESCAC men's cross country title. Amherst is paced by returning Second Team All-NESCAC runners, sophomore Mohammed Hussein (Hargesia, Somaliland) and senior Dan Crowley (Ludlow, Mass.). Hussein, who has been phenomenal this season, won the UMass Invitational, the Purple Valley Classic, the Little Three Championship and took second place among all runners at the NEICAAA Championship on October 10. Crowley has posted four top-ten finishes, placing fourth at the Little Three Championship, fifth at the Purple Valley Classic, seventh at the UMass Invitational and tenth at the NEICAAA Championship. As a team, Amherst won the Purple Valley Classic and turned in runner-up showings at the UMass Invitational, the NEICAAA Championship and the Little Three Championship.
Bates has been getting better as the season has gone on. The Bobcats started the month by finishing eighth in the Brown Division at the Paul Short Invitational and won their second consecutive Maine State Championship two weeks later on Oct. 17. Senior Allen Sumrall (Albuquerque, N.M.) has led Bates' improvement during the month, having posted a runner-up finish at the Maine State Championship and a 27th-place finish at the Paul Short Invitational.
One of the surprise teams this season has been Wesleyan, which looks to improve on last year's eighth-place finish. The Cardinals placed seventh in the Brown Division at the Paul Short Invitational due in large part to senior Taylor Titcomb's (Port Washington, N.Y.) 15th-place finish in the race. Titcomb has been Wesleyan's most consistent harrier, as he also placed seventh at the Little Three Championship.
Tufts returns a pair of All-NESCAC performers from last year's fifth-place team in juniors Tim Nichols (North Lima, Ohio) and Luke O'Connor (Chicago, Ill.). O'Connor finished sixth at the NEICAAA Championship, while Nichols crossed the finish line 14th to help the Jumbos finish 11th in the team standings on Oct. 10. Both runners are joined by sophomore Ty Enos (North Dighton, Mass.), who was the top Tufts finisher at the Purple Valley Classic and the Connecticut College Invitational.
Hamilton heads into the weekend peaking at the right time of the year. The Continentals, who were ninth at the 2014 NESCAC Championship, are fresh off first-place finishes at the Hamilton Invitational and the New York State Collegiate Track Conference (NYSCTC) Championship. Senior Adam Pfander (Beacon, N.Y.) won the NYSCTC Championship last Saturday, while junior Jack Pierce (New Gloucester, Maine) has been Hamilton's top performer in three other meets this season.
The race for top individual honors will be a tightly contested one. The lead pack will likely consist of Amherst's Hussein and Crowley, Bates' Sumrall, Hamilton's Pfander and Pierce, Tufts' Nichols and O'Connor, Wesleyan's Titcomb and Williams' Mazaheri and Decker. Other runners to contend include Bowdoin junior Bridger Tomlin (Boulder, Colo.), Colby junior Silas Eastman (Chatham, N.H.), Connecticut College junior Ben Bosworth (Dorchester, Mass.), Middlebury senior Sebastian Matt (New Albany, Ohio) and Trinity senior Patrick Hoagland (San Diego, Calif.). A junior or senior has earned first place each year since 2008.
Results from the NESCAC Cross Country Championships will be available on Saturday afternoon at nescac.com.
-- Courtesy of the NESCAC --