This year’s cross country season will be an expectations game. With one of the strongest recruiting classes Columbia has ever seen and a painfully close end to last season, the Lions have high expectations for this fall, and they have the tools to meet them.
Although both teams lost members from their top sevens, the program managed to snag an outstanding set of new recruits. This group of first-years is particularly strong in its depth and, according to Head Coach Willy Wood, is one of the top five recruiting classes in the country this fall. While the new runners have yet to compete, standout athletes include Paul Snyder, Leighton Spencer, and Ben Veilleux on the
men’s side and Noelle Van Rysselberghe on the women’s team.
“I think every year we lose three of the top five,” Wood said. “That’s the way it’s meant to be. Your seniors are supposed to be your best runners. We have a core of runners who are very talented and can fill in. We’ll be young, but we’ll have very talented kids here.”
Acclimating the first-years has taken a primary focus in training thus far. Assistant coaches Zach Richard and Jon Clemens have been increasing the mileage and intensity of practice with the hope of peaking at the right times. The difficult adjustment, according to Clemens, is really in terms of volume, and training has been more strength-oriented in order to address that concern.
“The mindset right now is definitely all about patience,” Clemens said. “The goal right now is for not one member of the team to do anything more than focus on peaking at Ivy League Championships, NCAA Regionals, and the regional meet. The time frame is basically two months from now, and there’s so much running between now and then. That’s why we’re doing tons of core work right now.”
Returning runners have helped to ease the transition for first-years on what coach Clemens termed a “family-oriented team.” These athletes will also help to flesh out the top seven as the season ensues. On the women’s side, junior Jackie Drouin, senior Irena Ossola, and senior Christina Henderson will be a significant part of the team’s foundation, having placed highly at NCAA Regionals the previous season. The men’s team has a solid pack that dominated the Heptagonal Championships and NCAA Regionals last year. The returning members of that group are sophomore Kyle Merber, junior Brendan Martin, junior Tom Poland, and senior Bobby Hartnett.
This season should be an intense one for the Lions, given that the competition will be closer than ever. Last year, the men’s team lost to Princeton at Ivy League Championships by a tiny margin and has had similarly close second-place finishes for four out of the past six years. The women’s squad is in a comparable position, having placed first or second for the last seven years. Princeton will be Columbia’s primary Ivy League competitor for both the men and women, while regionally, the teams will focus on Providence and Syracuse.
This Saturday’s competition, the Binghamton Invitational, should serve as a good indicator of the new recruits’ ability. The level of competition is not expected to be high, and the race approach will be that of a “controlled effort,” according to Wood. First-years will focus on adjusting to a collegiate racing environment, with the men’s team taking on the additional task of experiencing an 8K race rather than the high school 5K.
“We’re racing against ourselves more than we are racing against other teams,” Richard said.
A group of women will also be running locally as well at the Fordham Invitational.