On Saturday, Nov. 19, the Harvard men’s cross country team competed in the NCAA National Championships in Stillwater, Okla., its third consecutive appearance in the season-ending meet. Junior Maia Ramsden was the women’s sole representative, competing in the 6k for the second straight year and claiming 11th place. Meanwhile, the men’s team came 17th, with sophomore Graham Blanks finishing sixth in the 10k. Ramsden’s and Blanks’ accomplishments earned them NCAA All-American honors.
In the day’s earlier race, the women’s 6k, Ramsden got off to a very strong start. The individual Ivy League champion was able to keep up with the leaders at the start of the race and started to gain ground towards the end, taking 11th place with a time of 19:53.3, just under 25 seconds behind the winning mark set by North Carolina State’s Katelyn Tuohy. The New Zealander finished off her stellar junior campaign by setting a personal best in the event, bettering her 2021 finish by more than 40 seconds and 99 spots.
Blanks’ sixth-place time of 28:58.4 set a new personal best in the men’s 10k, just under 15 seconds behind the winner — Stanford’s Charles Hicks — and more than 20 seconds faster than last year’s 23rd-placed finish (29:21.1). It was also the Crimson’s best individual finish in the NCAA Championships since Maksim Kolerv ’14 came third as a senior.
The Athens, Ga. native credited his experience competing in the 2021 Championships in Tallahassee, Fla. with fueling his impressive results last weekend.
“First of all, [it] is experience,” he explained. “Being able to run all the same races again, kind of know how they're gonna play out, get to see the courses. So [during] my freshman year, [it] was nice to run at the national championship [and] see how the process goes.”
The Ivy League champion also demonstrated consistency throughout the season, never recording a finish worse than 26th in his six races and winning three times. He started off his season by winning the 6k at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet on Sept. 10, and entered the National Championships off another win at the Northeast Regional Championships on Nov. 11.
“I feel like I was a little more consistent this year than last year,” he added. “There's a lot of variables that from last year that I was able to get under control and make this year a little less chaotic than last year, which usually leads to better performances.”
Blanks wasn’t the only Crimson runner to put up a strong performance last Saturday — junior Acer Iverson came 50th with a time of 29:46.1. The top-five scorers were rounded out by sophomore Joe Ewing — who finished in 152nd (30:37.3) — first-year Shane Brosnan (30:39.0, 156th) and first-year Vivien Henz, whose 30:57.1 was good enough for 190th. In total, Harvard finished with 474 points, 391 behind national champions Northern Arizona.
“What typically happens is you get people who get a little too pumped up, on other teams get out, and they go out a little too fast. And by half halfway through the race, they're hurting,” reflected Blanks on the team’s strategy throughout the race. “Once the hills come in the latter half of the race, they start kind of moving backwards into places. So we wanted to take advantage of that. Just run, call them early and then utilize the people that were fading backwards to get some extra points for the team and move up. And I think we did a pretty good job with that.”
Blanks added that, despite the 17th-place finish being five positions worse than the Crimson’s finish in 2021, the team had exhibited a lot of progress.
“It was pretty encouraging,” he said. “And we're looking to improve upon that greatly next year and in the years to come.”
The Crimson’s strong performance was also tops among Ivy League schools. After finishing second by three points behind Princeton in the Ivy League Championships on Oct. 28, Harvard got the better of its rivals last Saturday. The Tigers finished 30th out of 31 teams with 710 points.
—Staff writer Danai-Christina Avdela can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.