The record-setting men’s cross country team raced on the 8000 meter course at the NCAA Division III National Championship in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday, November 19. They finished the race in 13th overall out of 32 teams, the highest position ever earned by the team in the Rensselaer’s history. The Institute’s only other appearance at the NCAA meet was in 1996, when they took 17th.
“Reaching NCAA’s has long been a goal for our team,” said sophomore Grant O’Connor. “After our results from track this spring, we knew we had the potential for something big this season. Personally, I’m proud that I can play a part in leading the team to new heights. We take our training very seriously, so racing well certainly reaffirms our faith in the process.”
In spite of tripping during the race, held at Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, Kentucky, O’Connor led the Engineers with his 25th place time of 24:47.2, averaging a 4:59.2 mile pace. His spot in the 278-person field earned him his first National All-American honor.
“I discussed strategy with Coach Lynch before the race with goal of finishing in the top three individually,” said O’Connor. “My plan was to run at the front of the race for three miles, then be prepared to make or defend a strong acceleration as we neared the finish. Ultimately, Ben [Fazio] and I were able to move up with strong fifth miles to finish 2-3.”
Only seven male athletes continued training after the NCAA Atlantic Regional meet for the National meet. There were five scoring members in the race, including O’Connor and his teammates senior Ben Fazio in 70th with a time of 25:15.6, sophomore Sean O’Connor with a 107th place time of 25:24.6, senior Garrett Davis in 25:44.3, and junior Matthew Stewart in 25:51.2. Seniors Matthew Cicciu and Brian Crowley were also on the field for RPI.
“Despite only our top seven runners competing in post-season meets, everyone on our roster has helped move the team forward,” said O’Connor. “Having teammates to look up to, train with, and ultimately race with is invaluable to our success. This year’s senior class is phenomenal in that regard, and they will leave a strong program behind.”
Led by junior Jaime Lord, seven runners from the women’s cross country team also traveled to Nationals, where they finished in 18th place overall out of 32 teams. Lord improved by 25 seconds over her time at last year’s NCAA Championship, crossing the line of the 6000 meter race in 19th place with a time of 21:05.9 and earning her second National All-America in the process.
Sophomore Karina Bolton and senior Maddie Dery crossed in second and third for the Engineers in 22:17.0 and 22:18.0 respectively. At 22:31.0, senior Mary West finished, with senior Allison Thayer only four seconds behind.
Fifth year coach John Lynch and assistant coaches Kailyn Balzano and Nick Marcantonio received recognition as the Coaching Staff of the Year for their work in helping mold RPI students into strong endurance athletes. Lynch will return as distance coach of the men’s and women’s track teams in the spring.