Engineers Meet Expectations at Pre-Nationals, Men Sixth, Women Second

October 14, 2017

With the opportunity to be in a loaded national field at the Pre-National Cowbell Classic, MIT traveled to Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, the site of the 2017 NCAA Division III Cross Country Championship, to get a feel for the course and to test the somewhat arbitrary national rankings in order to get a sense of just how well they would perform against the country's best Division III teams. 

In a continuation of extreme summer conditions in what is supposed to be the fourth week of the Fall, the race time temperature was 90 degrees, sunny and moderately humid.  The men raced first, finishing sixth in a field of 38 teams.  The top two teams, North Central College and SUNY Geneseo were also the top two teams in the national ranking.  Third was fifth ranked Pomona Pitzer, fourth was 11th ranked Loras, and fifth was eighth ranked Wash. U of St Louis.  MIT, ranked 12th, finished ahead of ninth ranked Christopher Newport and 10th ranked Calvin.  Other nationally ranked teams in the race and their finish were 17th ranked Johns Hopkins finishing eighth, 15th ranked Wartburg finishing 10th, 13th ranked UW Eau Claire finishing 11th, 24th ranked Ohio Northern finishing 12th, 20th ranked Occidental finishing 13th, 19th ranked UW Stout finished 14th, unranked Chicago finished 15th, 27th ranked UW Platteville finished 16th, 30th ranked Emory University finished 17th, and 31st ranked Albion finished 18th.

At the mile mark, it was clear that MIT was being conservative on the very hilly course.  Dennis Maloney '19 was with the leaders in eighth place in 5:04, but the next MIT runner was Billy Woltz '20 in 56th position in 5:10 with Josh Rosenkranz '19, Kent Slaney '21, Alex Knoedler '18, and Aidan Gilson '19 at 5:12.  Behind them were teammates Nate Foss (5:15), David Walter (5:16), Nicholas Waltman (5:17) and Jake Oeding (5:22). 

By the three mile mark, Maloney was still with the leaders at 15:09, but Rosenkranz had moved up to 20th in 15:22, Knoedler to 50th in 15:36, Gilson up to 61st in 15:40, and Woltz slipping a bit to 75th in 15:46.  Waltman, clearly having a conservative first mile, had moved up to 90th and was the sixth runner for MIT at this point in 15:49. 

In the fourth mile the trend stayed the same with Gilson sliding back and Waltman moving up, but others held their position well.  In the final mile, which was a relatively downhill mile, Maloney, finishing sixth overall, lost 27 seconds to the winner, Isaac Garcia-Cassani of SUNY Geneseo who won in 24:41 despite a 4:51 by Maloney, who finished in 25:08.  Rosenkranz held onto 20th in 25:35, Knoedler finished in 55th in 26:08, Woltz was 66th in 26:16 and Waltman successfully moved up to fifth on the team and 76th overall in 26:22.  Gilson allowed the beginnings of a cold to get to him, finishing in 90th in 26:33.  Foss was 106th in 26:41, Walter 118th in 26:47, Oeding 135th in 27:00 and Slaney was 211th in 27:57.

The 1:00 spread for 1-3 is pretty dismal for a team hoping to get to the point of finishing on the podium at Nationals.  While they are a young team, with six of the top seven unaccustomed to running varsity and meets of this caliber, they had better toughen up a bit if they hope to accomplish their goal.

The women's race featured an equal if not better slice of the top teams in the country.  Johns Hopkins ranked number one in the country followed by Wash U at #2, MIT at #3, SUNY Geneseo at #4, Chicago at #6, CMS at #7, UW Eau Claire at 10th, Hope at #12, Calvin at #15, St Olaf at #18, Emory at #21, Wheaton (IL) at #22, Wartburg at #25, Ithaca at #29, Trinity (TX) at #31, UW Stevens Point at #32, and Occidental at #34.  Although likely much hotter than five weeks from now, this race could very well be a preview of the top four teams in the country.

In typical fashion, Taryn Cordani '18 of Ithaca took off at the gun, ignoring the competition as if the race was just a time trial.  By the mile mark the race for first place was over.  Also in typical fashion, Johns Hopkins went out extremely hard, dominating the team race in the first mile, running in fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth and 10th.  Meanwhile, MIT, going out aggressively relative to their normal race practices were led by Jenna Melanson '20 in 12th at 5:54 with Mary Eccles '18 in 14th, also in 5:54.  Leandra Zimmermann '19 was in 18th in 5:55, along with Katie Bacher '20, also in 5:55 in 19th place. Marissa McPhillips '20 and Katie Collins '21 were at 5:56 in 23rd and 24th place.  It was clearly becoming a dual meet, but one which Johns Hopkins was clearly winning.

By the end of the second mile it was clear that MIT was moving up, but not significantly enough to guarantee they would succeed in catching Johns Hopkins. Melanson had begun to fall back as her second mile was a 6:03.  Bacher had moved up significantly to lead the Engineers after running a 5:35 mostly downhill mile.  Close behind were Collins who had run a 5:41 mile along with Zimmermann, McPhillips and Eccles.  At this point Johns Hopkins was in fifth, sixth, and seventh.  Bacher was passing their fourth runner, moving from 10th to ninth.  They were also occupying 13th while MIT had 14th, 15th, 16th and 19th.

In the third mile MIT continued to move up with Bacher claiming seventh and Collins sliding up to eighth.  McPhillips was in 14th, Eccles in 17th and Zimmermann losing some ground to 21st.  At the front things were spreading out a lot.  Hopkins still occupied fourth, fifth and sixth, ninth and 14th, but they were no longer together and MIT was closing on them. 

In the final .73 the heat got to a few of the runners, significantly affecting one Johns Hopkins runner who was one of their top three, but was unable to finish while just meters from the finish, as well as McPhillips who collapsed with a half mile to go, and barely crossed the finish before collapsing again, losing 14 places.  While Cordani won the 6K in am impressive 20:45, the team battle was a matter of two points in favor or Johns Hopkins.  Ellie Clawson '19 was third in 21:36, and Tasha Freed '19 was sixth in 21:42, both for JHU.  Collins, the top freshman in the field was seventh in 21:43, and Bacher eighth in 21:44. Therese Olshanski '21 was ninth in 21:49 and Caroline Smith was 11th for JHU in 21:51.  Zimmermann was 15th in 21:58, Eccles 18th in 22:04, and McPhillips 28th in 22:40.  Megan McCandless '20, still coming back from injury was 32nd for MIT in 22:49 and Melanson 45th in 23:05, one place in front of the fifth JHU runner also in 23:05.  The final score was Johns Hopkins 74, MIT 76.  Third place went to SUNY Geneseo with 141 points.  Also racing for MIT were Emily Niu '21 in 61st in 23:16, Tessa Weiss '20 74th in 23:25 and Jenny Xu '19 in 23:42.

MIT will not race until 10/29 when both the men and women compete to defend their conference titles.  The men, who have never lost the title, will be going for number 20, while the women will be attempting their 11th in a row.  In five weeks both the men and women hope to return to do battle again at Principia College.  Both teams have their work cut out for them if they hope to achieve their goals.