WashU cross country faces stiffest UAA competition in 8 years
Orange and yellow leaves gathered across Emory University’s historic trails, drawing the cross country season near its close.
Other fall sports have round-robin conference championships. Their UAA winner is determined over several weeks. In cross country, all 8 schools compete at once, leaving no doubts about the relative quality of each team.
The women’s field had an uneven distribution that was high-caliber but thin. The WashU women have won the past 7 UAA titles. However, after two previous defeats against UChicago this season, and with the Maroons recently climbing to the #1 national rank, the Bears had an inkling that their winning streak could be disrupted. These Top 2 teams have a significant gap over the rest of the field.
Annika Urban of Emory won the individual race in 21:14 and is herself a contender for the national title. WashU senior Emily Konkus led the Bears, placing 2nd in 21:34. Fellow senior team captain Lindsay Ott and Rookie of the Year Katie Rector also earned strong Top 7 finishes, timing 22:02 and 22:05 respectively. However, UChicago’s entire Top 7 fleet of runners finished before WashU’s 4th. Although WashU has strong frontrunners, UChicago’s depth in the latter half of their pack will only become more valuable as meets get larger in regionals and nationals.
The final tally was 46 points for WashU, compared to UChicago’s 36 points. NYU grabbed 3rd with 78 points. “Chicago is ranked #1, and they ran like it,” commented coach Jeff Stiles. “I thought we ran our best race of the season.”
Still, the break of the seven-year win streak does not deter the WashU women from their goal of a Top 4 podium finish at Nationals. Placing 2nd by 10 points to the best team in the country shows their competitiveness.
Unlike the women’s field, the men’s field had “a lot of parity going in,” according to Stiles. Among the Top 5 teams — Emory University, Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western Reserve University, University of Chicago, and WashU — “It was anyone’s race for the taking,” said senior captain Joe Silagi. Since 2010, the WashU men have placed 1st or 2nd at the UAAs every year. With an open field this year, runners were more uncertain about race strategy.
“If you see someone from those schools ahead of you, you have to pass them because every point is gonna count against each school,” Silagi said about the team’s mindset entering the race.
Emory ultimately won the team title with 48 points, followed by Carnegie Mellon with 64 points. WashU came in 5th, behind Case Western and UChicago, scoring 92 points. Individually, Joseph Jaster of Case Western won in 24:44. WashU’s team leader, sophomore Matthew Hornung (a sophomore), finished in 10th place, with teammates junior Drew Sidamon-Eristoff and senior Jeff Candell close behind. However, the 25-second and 13-place gap between Candell and sophomore Alexander Gadin, WashU’s next runner, proved to be the team’s downfall.
The men’s season has been defined by injuries, with many of the team’s top runners sidelined. That has meant that all season, the top seven has varied more than usual seasons. “[It] means [that], sometimes, we come into races with a bit of uncertainty of who exactly is gonna finish where and how that’s gonna play out in results,” said Silagi.
The men maintain hope for regionals. “You can always be left feeling like you wanted to push harder in this race that already happened,” said Silagi on the team’s post-meet frustration. “But we’re just gonna have to use that as fuel as we move forward.” Stiles talked with the men afterwards about “taking some more ownership and accountability to be ready to go” for the upcoming races.
At the upcoming NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 12, the first-place team will automatically qualify for Nationals. The remaining teams must vie for one of 22 at-large bids spread over the 10 regions. WashU is a strong contender for 3rd using current projections.
The men will need a tighter effort to move past Regionals. North Central and Wartburg are the 2 favorite teams. To qualify for Nationals, the WashU men will need to surpass some of the teams that beat them at the UAA conference. Regionals can be a blank slate, ideally bolstered by the team’s takeaways from a challenging meet at UAAs.