Co-ed relays kick off season for women’s cross country

Women’s cross country couldn’t have asked for a better day to kick off their season than Saturday at Mount Hope Farm. Skies were clear and the sun was warm for what seemed like the first time since the team returned to campus. The meet, too, was appropriate: the easygoing and festive atmosphere of the Co-ed Relays was a perfect way to begin what promises to be another season of success for the Ephs.

Co-ed Relays have been an enjoyable season-opener for the Ephs since Head Coach Pete Farwell launched it in the late 1990s. The meet was originally attended by a number of schools, but at some point was merged with a dual meet against Middlebury, and for the past few years Williams and Middlebury have alternated hosting it. This year Farwell decided to invite more teams, and the result was pleasing to all involved. “Having Vassar and Roger Williams here added to the fun,” Farwell said. “This meet is always a great way to start the season; it eases us back into racing in a relaxed and fun way, and it’s great for team bonding.”

Traditionally, Williams hosts its meets at Mount Greylock High School, but construction near the course caused the Ephs to move to Mount Hope this week, a welcome change of scenery for the team. “It was neat for us to go back to Mount Hope,” Farwell said. “It’s a beautiful place to run, but unfortunately its facilities are inadequate for a big meet, and a bit too much of the course is paved.”

The five legs of the relay add up to 12 kilometers. Women and men are paired up, or in some cases grouped, and alternate running legs of 3k and 2k, the total distance for the women working out to be 5k, with 7k for the men. First-year Lisa Davenport and Matt Winkler ’04 tied with Jenn Campbell ’05 and Andy Stevenson ’07 to win the seeded race in 42:35. These pairs were closely followed by five other Williams duos before the first non-Ephs crossed the line.

In the unseeded section, Williams made an even bigger sweep, capturing the first through ninth places. Sara Morrissey ’07 and her partners Sean O’Brien ’05 and Colin Bruzewicz ’05 were the winners here, covering the 12k in 45:49.

Their shirts, from Bruzewicz’s collection of soccer jerseys, were impressive too, but a little too warm for the weather, and the prize for best costume, if there was such a prize, would have been shared by Ross Smith ’05, who wore a black Speedo and a cape with flames on it, and Neal Holtschulte ’06, whose partner Kaitlin Rees ’07 outfitted him in zebra patterned spandex capris.

Farwell was impressed by the team’s spirit, especially that of the first-years. “From day one, this group has shown spirit. They’re excited to be on a good team and also with a fun and talented class. It’s a perfect combination.”

This year’s crop of eleven first-years has a lot of potential. Farwell feels there are a few women ready to contribute on the upper level. A few runners who were not top recruits also showed promise by running impressively Saturday.

Also new to the team this year is Assistant Coach Yarrow Moench. Moench, originally from Bellingham, Washington, graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., in 2001. A four-time All-American in the 1500 and a two-time All-American in cross country, Moench will be a great asset to the team, and the women are excited to have her. “She’s very enthusiastic and has just jumped right in,” Andrea Burke ’06 said.

As for the returning team, the Eph women look fast, healthy and ready to run. Five of last year’s top seven runners are back again this year, including four All-Americans. On Saturday, only two women sat out due to injury.

“There are many more runners than we’ve ever had healthy and ready to go at the start of the season,” Farwell said proudly. “Almost everybody did a great job in their summer training and exceeded my expectations. If we stay healthy and don’t overdo it, prospects look great for the season. We can be as good as we want to be.”

Next week, the Ephs will head to the Connecticut College Invitational at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. The next chance to watch them at home is Sept. 20 at the Purple Valley Classic.