With a second-place finish at the 2012 NCAA Northeast Regionals on Friday, the Columbia men’s cross country team earned a trip to Kentucky as one of the 31 squads represented at the NCAA Championships this upcoming weekend. The Light Blue finished with 72 points, behind No. 4 Iona with 45 points. In a field of over 200 athletes, the Lions placed four out of their seven runners in the top 15, a first in program history. The women’s team didn’t fare as well, though, placing ninth at the same competition.
Heading into the meet, senior Leighton Spencer had said that the men’s goal would be to secure a berth at Nationals by placing in the top three at Regionals, which the team was able to do behind the efforts of a strong upperclassman core. Throughout the season, a different athlete has stepped up at each meet and led the Lions to top finishes in races showcasing high-caliber teams.
At Regionals, junior Jacob Sienko led the way for the Light Blue, placing seventh in the 10,000-meter race. Seniors Mark Feigen, Mike Murphy, and Spencer followed Sienko, taking 11th, 12th, and 15th places respectively to round out the top 15.
For the women, a trip to the NCAA Championships is less probable, following their ninth-place finish in a field of 37 teams.
Spencer had also said before the meet that the toughest competition the Light Blue would face was No. 4 Iona and No. 14 Syracuse. This assessment proved to be true, with Syracuse finishing one point behind Columbia to take third place with 73 points.
One year ago, then-freshman Waverly Neer took fifth place at Regionals, and the Columbia women finished in fourth. This year, Neer, plagued by injuries, has not raced since September, and the team has not been able to fill the gaping hole left in her absence.
“Obviously losing Waverly was a really big step back for us,” senior Mallory Anderson said. “She’s our frontrunner. She’s very, very talented.”
For their injury-burdened squad, a top 10 finish in the region was impressive, but not the first or second place finish it needed to have to secure a spot at nationals. Though their chances are slim, the women are still in the hunt for an at-large bid, given to teams based on their performances throughout the season.
Anderson finished in 67th place in the 6,000-meter race. Seniors Erin Gillingham and Clare Buck led the Lions at Regionals, finishing in 24th and 33rd places respectively.
With the prospect of an at-large bid yet to be decided, the women may have the opportunity to rest up and look ahead to the indoor track season. Meanwhile, the men’s journey to fulfill their season goal of placing well at Nationals continues. The men’s race at the NCAA Championships will take place next Saturday.