Men’s XC paces to 3rd at ECAC Championships

Men’s cross country rebounded from a fifth-place result at NESCACs to take third in the ECAC Championships at Mount Greylock High School on Saturday. Paced by rookie Todd Ford ’16, the men scored 84 points to finish behind Amherst with 44 points and Bates with 54 points. The men rested their top seven over the weekend in preparation for Div. III New Englands this week.

Thanks to the work of coaches and volunteers throughout the week, the course recovered from the damage of Hurricane Sandy and was ready for the third largest field in Div. III – 287 competitors – with dry footing and debris-free trails. Nevertheless, chilly conditions tested the runners throughout the race.

Amherst took the race out hard with a flying start behind four of its top seven from NESCACs. In giving its regional competitors the weekend off, Williams allowed the second seven to compete on Saturday.

The Jeffs’ Gus Greenstein and Dillon Buckley were the early leaders, with Ford pacing just behind. Despite the course’s challenging foothills, the race stayed compact until the third mile when a pack of five emerged, including Ford, Greenstein, Buckley, Tufts’ Sam Haney and Amherst’s Romey Sklar. These five tested each other until the final climb, when Ford, Buckley and Haney gapped the field.

Going into the last 200 meters, the race turned tactical as each runner sought a competitive edge. Haney was the first to take off, unleashing a devastating kick as he turned toward the final straightaway. Ford ignited a kick of his own, demonstrating his middle distance credentials and nearly wresting the victory from the Tufts senior. Haney finished in 26:22 to take home the title, with Ford only seconds behind in 26:25. Buckley earned third place in 26:30.

Peter Drews ’14 sprinted across the line next for the Ephs, putting an exclamation point on a meteoric rise from an injury-ridden season to becoming the men’s second alternate at regionals. He earned 12th in 27:05. Nick Wolf ’14 also made his first championship performance a memorable one, picking off runners throughout the race to cement 20th place in a time of 27:21. Steve Mendoza ’13 ended his cross country career in style, finishing 24th in 27:28, while Max Heninger ’14 demonstrated his speed with a 26th-place finish and time of 27:31. Rounding out the Ephs’ top seven, Peter Watson ’13 and Brian Kirchner ’13 wrapped up their collegiate careers with 45th- and 84th-place finishes in 27:56 and 28:50, respectively.

“The ECAC conference is especially deep this year, with five of the top 17 teams in the country and the depth to prove it,” Head Coach Pete Farwell ’73 said. “For this squad of ours to reach the podium in this 50-team meet is a great accomplishment and shows how well we are peaking in the key November meets.”

“It was really exciting to see Todd Ford mix it up with the leaders all race long, and it was great to see the rest of our pack steadily move up in the last half of the race,” tri-captain Scott Rodilitz ’13 said. “We needed guys to step up in order to contend with some great teams, and most guys had their best race of the year on the day we needed it.”

After the NESCAC meet, Williams fell to 17th in the NCAA rankings. While the Ephs are ranked fifth in the region, they are eager to flip the script on their competitors at next Saturday’s regional championship, hosted by Westfield State. The top two teams automatically qualify for the Div. III NCAA championship on Nov. 17, while the next three are in contention for at-large berths.

“In such a tightly-contested meet, every point and every second will count,” Rodilitz said.

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