Women’s X-C second to Middlebury at Invitational

Last Saturday the women’s cross-country team glided through a field of 12 schools to a second-place finish at the Tufts Invitational, held at the Jumbos’ veterinary school in Grafton, Massachusetts. The 5K (3.1 mile) pastureland course and cloudless sky played to the Eph’s advantages, despite cattle-worn stretches of tricky footing.

A long, gradual uphill greeted the women off the starting line, funneling the 176 runners around a traverse of the hayfield and dropping them onto a mown path along the field’s perimeter. The route wound downhill for a half-mile, turned up a steep, 30-meter embankment, and ducked into the woods, weaving down rocky slopes before climbing once more to rejoin the pasture’s edge.

With a final twist of rolling hills, the course then opened onto a 200-meter straightaway, descending to the finish. After a solid month of mountain training in the Purple Valley—distance runs along the Taconic crest, tempo speedwork and interval workouts in the shadows of Mt. Greylock—the Williams women were right at home.

Co-captain Courtney Bennigson ‘01 once again led the purple tide, placing fourth overall and finishing just a stride ahead of teammate Julia Bensen ‘03, in 18:52 and 18:53 minutes, respectively. Both women’s average mile splits for the race were a slim 6:04 minutes apiece. Just ten seconds behind the front pair, co-captain Joey Shapiro ‘01 crossed the line in eighth place with a time of 19:03. Shapiro’s time effectively closed 30 seconds on Bennigson and Bensen—at last week’s Purple Valley Classic, the lead duo had finished 40 seconds ahead of her. Katie Sharff ‘02 and Maya Kessler ‘04, who finished 15th and 16th in 19:35 and 19:36, respectively, rounded out the scoring five in fighting form: While Sharff moved from 25th to 15th position in the last mile, first-year Kessler showed that she can run with the big girls. Laura Bothwell ‘02 was sixth-woman for the team and 29th overall (20:05 minutes), “a good position and huge improvement,” Coach Peter Farwell noted. A few meters back, Lauren Weiner ‘01 completed the front seven, placing 34th with a time of 20:11.

The Ephs’ second seven—Heather Lindenman ‘04, Miranda Whitmore ‘02 (who ran the best she has all season), Maywa Montenegro ‘01, Claire Magat ‘03, Elizabeth Roller ‘01 (nursing an ankle injury), Jasmine Mitchell ‘03 (who also ran a season-best), and Alicia Andrews ‘03—ran with impressive strength, and as Eva Kwok ‘03, Paige McClanahan ‘04, and Jamie Pinnell ‘04 continue to improve, will build upon their momentum.

Only Middlebury—nationally ranked number one in Division III—outpaced the purple pack, putting all five of their scoring women among the top 13 finishers. But the margin was slim: In cross-country, as in golf, where the lowest aggregate score wins, Williams had 48 points to Middlebury’s 42. More importantly, the Williams women are picking up speed. Compared to their races at the 1999 ECAC Championship on the Grafton course, Bensen, Shapiro, and Sharff have sheared a total of more than three minutes off their times. Coach Farwell also commented that everyone on the women’s squad “ran the second mile of the race really well, kept an even pace, very smooth,” evidence that their recent work in “developing different phases of the race” is taking effect.

The women will hit the paths of Boston’s Franklin Park for the Division I New England Championships on October 13.

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