Second 7s take ECAC titles for men’s and women’s XC

Both men’s and women’s cross country captured ECAC titles on Saturday at Mount Greylock High School. Many schools traditionally race their second seven runners at ECAC to rest the top seven for competition at Div. III Regionals the following weekend. The second seven men won the race with 45 points ahead of Keene State (96) and Oneonta (126). The women’s second seven placed five runners in the top 15 to score 47 points, beating Amherst’s score of 63 and Middlebury’s 104.

Held on the Ephs’ home course at Mount Greylock High, the race led competitors through a series of wooded rolling hills and open field stretches. Low temperatures and dry conditions made for a perfect meet, far better than the wind and rain of last week’s NESCAC championships.

Since 2001, the ECAC women’s team title has been passed between Williams and Amherst exclusively. While the Jeffs won back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006, Williams had a three-peat in 2002-2004. The Williams-Amherst rivalry was no less intense Saturday, when both teams’ powerful second seven squads were in strong contention for the title.

At the gun, Sarah Weber ’11, Bret Scofield ’10 and Jess Clarke ’10 leapt off the starting line and headed for the first baseball field loop. Natalia Rey de Castro ’09 and Beth Links ’09 also had fast starts while Laura Walls ’08 and Tina Meade ’11 lingered a bit farther back in the field.

Weber, Scofield and Clarke formed a powerful trio and secured their spots among the lead pack, while Rey de Castro followed closely behind. Walls made a long sustained surge over the last third of the race, capturing many fatigued harriers to join her teammates up front. The top three Ephs were all within 10 meters as they started the final 600-meter push around the soccer fields and track.

Clarke was the first Eph to cross the line in sixth place with a time of 23:19. Weber sped to seventh place shortly after, clocking in 23:23. Scofield, Walls and Rey de Castro wrapped up the Ephs’ five scorers, taking ninth (23:31), 11th (23:35) and 14th (23:36) respectively. Meade and Links rounded out the squad, cruising to 42th (24:37) and 47th (24:41).

Leading from the start, Amherst’s Katie Moravec was the individual champion, clocking in 23:03 to edge out teammate Kristen Ballinger (23:04) for the win. Although Amherst placed three in the top five finishers, the strong Williams pack placed five ahead of the remaining Jeff scorers to capture the title.

The men’s team bounded off the starting line toward the first baseball loop at a fast clip, immediately establishing themselves as contenders for the team title. Led by Macklin Chaffee ’09, the Ephs cruised into the first woods loop already at the head of the race.

The Williams harriers charged up the first long hill by Sweetwood, which was lined with screaming fans urging the runners on. The Ephs relaxed slightly on the flats by the high school and in the baseball field loop. By the three-mile mark, Jim Clayton ’08, Jeff Stenzel ’10, Chaffee, Stephen VanWert ’09 and Aaron Schwartz ’09 were among the top dozen runners. Ben Swimm ’09 and Brooks Udelsman ’09 were less than 30 seconds behind their teammates.

Schwartz and Stenzel worked together during the last half-mile of the race and sprinted to the finish within a second of each other, completing the 8k course in 26:42 and 26:43, good for fourth and fifth places, respectively. Clayton captured ninth in 26:51 and Chaffee was 11th in 26:55. VanWert narrowly missed All-ECAC honors with 16th place in 27:04. Completing the Ephs’ squad were Udelsman and Swimm in 20th and 24th.

For the seniors on both teams, the ECAC race was the last race of their collegiate career. Reflecting on the final race of her career, Walls attributed the Ephs’ victory to their strong packing. “We had a great pack and put five in front of Amherst’s four,” Walls said. “It was really amazing to see a clump of white jerseys ahead in the last third of the race. I used my teammates as motivation to pick off opponents. I knew we were in contention for the win.”

On Saturday, men’s and women’s cross country’s top seven will travel to Waterford, Conn., to participate in the New England Regional Championship and attempt to secure one of two NCAA berths that will be offered to the top two teams.