Cortland, September 27 -- The MIT Men's Cross-Country team took a giant step forward with a solid second-place finish at the 15th Annual Cortland Invitational at SUNY-Cortland. The meet attracted a competitive 17-team field only slightly off the caliber of last year's 25-team war.

The Engineers tallied 109 points, trailing only the 81 posted by St. Lawrence University -- a team ranked 16th in the nation in the most recent coaches' poll. Third place went to the host school, SUNY-Cortland (currently ranked #17) with 113 points.

MIT's harriers showed good up-front strength, and nice supporting depth. The gap between the two is still a concern, but it has closed steadily as the season has progressed. Sophomore Chris McGuire and junior co-captain Mike Parkins raced together for the 5.0-mile, mostly flat, grassy circuit, hitting the finish in 4th and 6th place, respectively. McGuire's 25:45 is a new MIT course record, taking it away from Parkins, whose 25:48 also bested his mark by 46 seconds.

Freshman Mark Strauss made up for a slow getaway by moving up through the field for a 20th-place finish, clocking 26:34, essentially matching Parkins' 1996 time. Strauss, who has been running impressive races in his debut season, just didn't get off the line well, and found himself well back in the hard-charging field.

Running another strong race, as MIT's fourth man, was senior co-captain Rich Rosalez, whose 35th place in 26:58 was a lifetime personal best for 5-miles. Rosalez, who sat out much of last year with knee problems, is back to full strength and has been solid as a rock. He has closed the gap behind the leaders every race, chopping it down to 1:13 this time.

Behind Rosalez, things get bunched up nicely. A deep freshman class has added to a developing sophomore tier, and given the Engineers a good group of runners tangling for spots 5 through 14.

Senior Sohail Husain was fifth man in the Tufts-Bates tri-meet, and was running aggressively for that position again in Cortland, trying to match Rosalez' pace and tighten the five-man time spread even more. His aggressiveness had a price, however, and he faded in the fourth mile, giving way to freshman Phil Loiselle, who pulled away with a 5:07 final mile en route to a huge personal best time of 27:02, good for 44th place, clinching the runner-up spot in the team battle.

Husain held the sixth man spot in 27:25, a 70-second improvement over his 1996 time, and still within 1:40 of McGuire.

Sophomore Frank Johnston held down the seventh spot, recording his best time of the year, 27:32, in 63rd place.

Despite the success of the varsity squad, perhaps the Star of the Day Award would go to freshman Liyan Guo, who conquered the field and won the JV race. Guo ran an intelligently-paced race, moving up steadily through the field -- 12th at 1-mile, 7th at 2-miles, 3rd at 3, 2nd at 4 -- and overtaking the leader in the final 600 yards to win going away in 27:18, a lifetime best by well over a minute.

The J.V. finished third with 70 points, narrowly being edged out for second by Fredonia, who tallied 69. Cortland won the race with 53. Freshman Aaron Adler took 12th in a PR 28:11, with ever-improving sophomore Ray Molnar right behind in 15th at 28:12 (bettering his '96 race here by more than four minutes).

Freshmen Ken Walker (23rd, 28:35 PR), and Jeff Billing (27th, 28:46) closed out the scoring. Another strong improvement was shown by soph Ryan Peoples, whose 28:49 in 29th place was a personal best by 50 seconds, and three minutes better than '96.

This weekend promises fireworks aplenty, with a Pre-Nationals Invitational being hosted by MIT at Franklin Park. Nationally-ranked teams from all over the US will be in attendance, looking to knock heads with some tough competition on the National Championship course. Four top ten men's teams will be there: number-two ranked North Central (IL) heads the field, with local challengers from Tufts (#5) and Brandeis (#7) as well as Haverford (#10) in the mix.

The men's Varsity race commences at 12:30. Sub-varsity is at 11:30, and the women's races are at 10:30 (SV) and 11:00 (V).

Plenty of good seats are still available.