Men’s cross country started off its season strong last week, securing a victory in the first competition of the fall. After losing five runners from its 2011 top seven, the men hardly missed a beat at the Ron Stonitsch Invitational, which was hosted by Vassar on Sept. 8. Led by Cole Townsend ’15, Williams posted a perfect score of 15 points, reaffirming its status as a perennial contender on the regional and national level.
On the day of the race, the course was cool and humid. A forecast of scattered showers provided a wild card for the 6k race, which consisted of a two-mile woods loop of rolling hills, bracketed at the start and finish by laps around Vassar’s practice fields.
Going into the Invitational, Head Coach Pete Farwell ’73 instructed his team to race at a progressive tempo. Accordingly, the Ephs ran at a comfortable pace through the first mile, leading to a number of strong packs. As the runners entered the woods loop and the rain began to come down, a group led by co-captains Wade Davis ’13 and Scott Rodilitz ’13 pulled away from the field. With seven fellow Ephs in contention, the men slowly overwhelmed the competition.
By the time the runners left the woods, the leaders had been whittled down to four Ephs: Rodilitz, Davis, Townsend and Chris Lee ’14. Although the race was billed as a team effort, Townsend used a strong kick to take first place in 19:56, followed closely by Davis in second in 19:57, Lee in third in 19:58 and Rodilitz in fourth at 19:59.
Rookie Bijan Mazaheri ’16 debuted in fifth place with a time of 20:08, while veteran Peter Watson ’13 impressed with a sixth-place finish with a 20:09 result. Max LaBerge ’14 rounded out the Ephs’ top seven, finishing in eighth at 20:12, while teammate Henry Koster ’14 earned 10th in 20:19. Overall, the men secured eight of the top 10 positions, easily ending a streak of Vassar victories at the invitational. Vassar settled for second place with 57 points, while New Paltz was third with 91 points.
“We followed the race plan perfectly,” Rodilitz said. “In team scoring, we were losing to Vassar at the mile mark, so being able to turn a deficit into a sweep of the top six places – over the last two-thirds of the race – is extremely encouraging.”
Even after this effort, the men remain a distant 14th in the national rankings, 102 points behind defending national champion North Central. Of the schools in New England, Bates owns the top position, ranked fifth nationally. Williams also trails fellow NESCAC competitors Tufts in seventh and Middlebury in ninth in the polls
After finishing sixth at last year’s NCAA championship meet, the Ephs lost a number of its top harriers, including All-American Josephat Koima ’12 and four-time All-NESCAC performer Anthony Raduazo ’12. Thus, early reports have forecasted a rebuilding year for the Ephs.
Farwell contends that this performance refutes the idea that Williams must rebuild. “We’ve already responded to graduation losses with big summers of training from many on the team,” Farwell said. “All are focused on our September workouts and developmental races to prepare for a great championship season.”
“This team expects nothing less than a podium finish come November,” Rodilitz said.
Next up, the men aim to defend their home course in the Purple Valley Classic on Sept. 22. A strong field of 22 teams, including five nationally-ranked squads, looks to challenge the Ephs at Mount Greylock Regional High School.