Running to triumph

First victory of season heightens hopes for districts and sets off spirits in the community

Racing against several nationally-ranked teams on Saturday at the Inter-Regional Border Battle in Sewell, NJ, the Rensselaer men’s and women’s cross country teams shook the competition with quick times in both the varsity and open races. The men’s and women’s team captains are excited about the continuing improvements of athletes at the season draws nearer to Liberty League champions and, hopefully, nationals.

The women earned their right to celebrate when, to their surprise, they placed first at the 24-school meet. A large point gap separated RPI, earning 85 points, from runner-up Dickinson College who had 108.

“After the race was over, we had no idea just how well we had done,” said junior women’s team co-captain Maddie Dery, who placed ninth in the 229-runner varsity 6 km race with 21:41.4. “We had a feeling that we all had good races, but no one really had any idea what the times were. So, when we checked the results and saw that many of us had 30-plus second PR’s, you can only imagine our excitement.”

Coming in first for the RPI women was sophomore Jaime Lord with 21:22.1. Lord placed third overall, crossing only 16.2 seconds after the leader from Swarthmore College. Behind her was senior Shannon Trant in sixth with 21:33.9. Following after Dery were junior Mary West at 21st and senior Alexa Sakorafos at 46th with times of 22:07.2 and 22:33.4 respectively.

Zooming into third for the men in the varsity 8 km race was none other than junior Ben Fazio. At 24:49.3, he broke free of the course, ending only 8.8 seconds after race leader Charlie Marquardt of Haverford College. After Fazio came senior men’s team co-captain Steve Hammar in 46th with 25:50.6, but for most of the race it looked like he would be number five for the Engineers.

“In the race I went out fast for position and continued to press forward,” Hammar commented. “I didn’t get out as fast as the rest of our top group. I pushed forward to catch them, which I eventually did a little after the 6k mark. And in the end I was able to achieve my goal of under 26 minutes. I am hoping next race I am able to get out with them and we can all race together the entire race.”

Loops in a field and a loop in the woods made up the course. There were short, steep hills in the beginning of the course and some rolling hills afterward. To describe it, perhaps more honestly, Hammar said “imagine a field turning to mud, being roughed up, then solidifying.”

Shortly after Hammar crossed came sophomore Matthew Stewart. Seconds later, teammates junior Matthew Cicciu and freshman Grant O’Connor flew past the line. Stewart attained 49th in 25:53.3, Cicciu 54th in 25:56.5, and O’Connor 59th in 26:01.3. 13 total RPI men completed the race in under 27 minutes, equating to an average pace faster than 5:25 per mile.

“This is the most incredible display of depth the team has ever seen, making not only our prospects this year look good but also our prospects for years to come,” said Hammar.

Liberty League Championships are now less than two weeks away for our distance runners. Having long awaited this meet, the culmination of all the work they’ve put in this season, the men and women will soon their moment to perform. Slated for Saturday, October 31, the race will take place in Canton, NY, hosted by nationally-ranked competitor St. Lawrence University.