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Cross Country Clashes with Country’s Best

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The Harvard men’s and women’s cross country teams raced across the country on Friday, October 14. Just south of Madison, Wis., juniors Acer Iverson and Maia Ramsden led Crimson squads into battle against some of the nation’s best at the Nuttycombe Invitational. On the east coast, at the famed Van Cortlandt Park course in Manhattan, N.Y., sophomores Ella Gilson and Reed Pryor headed another pair of Harvard teams at the ECAC Championships, facing Ivy League rivals Princeton, Cornell, and Yale along the way. The men's teams finished 21st in Wisconsin and 8th in New York, while the women’s teams placed 5th at Nuttycombe and 29th at Van Cortlandt.

“Nuttycombe is probably the most competitive meet of the preseason before championship season starts.” Iverson said. “We’re facing all the teams that will be at nationals and all the individuals who are going to be there, so it's a really good metric to see where we are standing right now and a great opportunity to figure out what we need to work on five weeks from now when we come to the NCAA National Championship.”

The emergence of the Crimson’s top runners to the front pack of the entire NCAA provides a beacon of hope for the Harvard teams that had lost key pieces of last year's teams to eligibility. Iverson and junior Graham Banks headline the top men’s returners, while Ramsden returns once again as a vital point scorer.

Iverson and Banks went head-to-head with a talented top pack in the 8K at Nuttycombe, which included U20 5000 meter American Record Holder Nico Young of Northern Arizona University and U23 European Cross Country Champion Charles Hicks of Stanford. Iverson placed 8th in a time of 23:22.1, just 10 seconds behind the top finisher Ky Robinson of Stanford and Young in second, while Banks finished closely behind in 26th in 23:31.5. On the women's side, Ramsden placed 7th in the 6K in 20:04.5 against a pack led by NCAA 1500 and 5000 meter champion Katelyn Tuohy.

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The move to racing in the front pack of the NCAA is a new but exciting experience for these top returners, especially in terms of racing strategy.

“I think in a lot of ways for cross country, racing at the front simplifies your life,” Ramsden said. “I dont think it’s easier, per se, but from a tactical standpoint. It's a lot less mentally taxing to have the goal be stuck with the girls that are leading because once you get [outside the front 30 runners] it gets tricky; you feel a little bit like you’re swimming in people until the race strings out, whereas at the start of a big race if you know you can hang with that top pack you can figure out your game plan.”

Nevertheless, it seems easy to be overwhelmed by all of the accolades constituting this top group. Relating to that point, Iverson described how having a mindset focusing on the race itself is essential for successful racing execution.

“When you’re in the moment you can't think about… about who those individuals [in front of you] are” said Iverson. “If you trust in your training, you know that you’re comfortable there and you can be there, and that’s the most important part in staying collected and executing.”

Rounding out the Crimson’s scoring positions on the men’s side were senior David Melville in 140th, and first-years Shane Brosnan and Vivien Henz in 179th and 191st, respectively. With critical point scorer Matthew Pereira having graduated in the class of 2022, having a combination of upperclassmen experience, talent, and youth provides Harvard hope for great improvement not only years down the road, but also in the immediate future.

“With a senior or even a junior, you know more or less where they should be in a pack and how fast they can really run,” Iverson said. “These freshmen have been on Harvard’s campus for two months. They have a long way to go in terms of metabolizing the training, learning how to race against a huge number of really talented competitors, so with the promising results we saw at Nuttycombe, I think we can go even further with. The room for potential is a lot higher.”

Although the Crimson team's did not place extremely highly at the meet, Harvard’s results in the postseason typically surpass those at Nuttycombe, namely at the NCAA Championship meet.

“I would say our approach as a team has always been just to treat it as another chance to practice good racing habits, but we’re not necessarily going to taper or change our training for it, so sometimes our race results don't necessarily reflect where we were at as a team,” Ramsden said. “So that’s definitely what happened last year. We did reasonably well at Nuttycombe, but we ended up beating a lot of those teams that beat us there later on in the season because we peaked for some of those later races. I think our [head coach] does a very good job at that.”

Following Ramsden on the women’s side, Maya Rayle (105th) scored second for the Crimson in a time of 20:56.0, while Isabelle Goldstein (165th), Penelope Salmon (191st) and Kristin Otervik (200th) filled out positions three through five.

In New York, strength in youth and numbers was also reflected. At the ECAC Championship, Ella Gilson led the women’s team by taking 7th place in a time of 21:28.3 in the 6K. Gilson makes up part of the Harvard women’s squad that boasts strength in numbers, which is a crucial element of any team hoping to make a deep postseason run.

“This is an extremely exciting year for us, and I know our coach is super excited about how we have been doing,” Gilson said. “I'm pretty sure this is the deepest team that Harvard’s women's cross country has ever had, and hopefully it will be the best team that we’ve had so far.”

Past just depth, a majority of Harvard women’s team have multiple years of eligibility after this season, keeping their core intact as they progress in the future.

Other Harvard scorers at Van Cortlandt on the women's side included Marianne Mihas (13th), Shakes Leibovitz (57th), Zoe Cooper (90th) and Cristina Demeo (138th). The Crimson beat Ivy League rivals Yale, Princeton and Columbia while falling just two points behind Cornell.

On the men’s side, sophomore Reed Pryor (36th) was Harvard’s top scorer with a time of 25:02.7 in the 8K. Finishing close behind were Noah Ward (49th), Sameer Das (52nd), Pierce Cousins (70th) and Ben Shryock (101th). Princeton won the meet.

The Crimson now shifts its focus towards the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, returning to Van Cortlandt Park in New York City, N.Y.,on October 28th, and towards the rest of the postseason, which may stretch all the way to the NCAA Championship meet for both squads on November 19th at Oklahoma State University.

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