Justyn Knight, Dana Giordano Claim Individual Titles
By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
November 13, 2015
BOSTON — The men of Syracuse and women of Providence stamped their tickets to the NCAA Division I Cross Country National Championships by winning the Northeast Regional team titles here today on a blustery, cold fall afternoon. Individually, Syracuse sophomore Justyn Knight and Dartmouth senior Dana Giordano finished atop the results, earning their first regional crowns.
SYRACUSE SWEEP PODIUM EN ROUTE TO MEN’S VICTORY
Returning after an October win here at the Boston College Coast to Coast Battle in Beantown, Justyn Knight and the Orange entered Regionals familiar with Franklin Park’s undulating and repetitive course. Following coach Chris Fox’s orders, the Orange bunched together from the gun and ran as a pack through eight kilometers. The savvy decision to pack run and conserve energy was wise, though nearly backfired: in the opening miles there were at least four falls within the extremely large lead group of close to 100 runners.
The race resembled more of a Massachusetts Turnpike traffic jam than a foot race, with fender benders –and countless bloody spike wounds– as a result.
“At the start there was a couple of falls. I don’t even know where, but a Dartmouth kid went down pretty bad and I think an Iona kid went down, too,” said Knight, a Canadian from Vaughan, Ontario. “We had to be careful of that. We knew what we were going into if we stayed a little further off from the front. You’ve just got to keep aware of your surroundings so you don’t fall.”
At 8-K the race would begin to take form, with the Orange’s Knight, Colin Bennie, Martin Hehir, Joel Hubbard, Dan Lennon, and Philo Germano all within five seconds of the lead. Iona’s top five were also alongside (led by Kieran Clements, Gilbert Kirui, and Mike O’Dowd), while Ivy Leaguers Kevin Dooney (Yale) and Ben Rainero (Cornell) stuck with the pack.
Just like in September, though, Syracuse was destined for victory. Coming around Franklin Park’s Playstead field for the final time, Knight, Bennie, and Hehir entered the homestretch out front, establishing a winning trifecta that couldn’t be trumped. Knight sprinted in for the individual crown in 30:28.9, quickly looking back to see Bennie and Hehir finish second and third in 30:29.6 and 30:30.1, respectively.
With Hubbard and Lennon rounding out the scoring five in 11th and 12th, Syracuse won the team title with a mere 29 points. Iona finished 11 points adrift of their New York rivals in second, with Cornell (114), Dartmouth (153), and Columbia (156) completing the top five teams.
“The race went really well. We executed it the way that we wanted to,” said Knight following a lengthy cool down. “We were instructed not to do anything until five miles and then when that came we picked it up a bit and were able to finish well.”
Iona’s Clements claimed fourth place (30:33.8), followed by Cornell’s Rainero (30:34.5) and Iona teammates Gilbert Kirui (30:36.1) and Mike O’Dowd (30:44.2).
Looking ahead to the NCAA National Championships on Saturday, November 21, in Louisville, Syracuse coach Fox said his team is rounding into top shape at the right time. Their goal remains a top-three trophy.
“We wanted to come in here and see if we could score 30 points,” said Fox. “I was proud of them… I’d like to get a trophy. I told you that a long time ago, that I want a trophy and anything from [nationals] is a bonus. We’ve been waiting four or five years to get a trophy, so it’s very important to us. We seem to be in a really good spot, and we’ll definitely take a shot.”
When asked about two-time reigning NCAA team champion Colorado, Fox said it would take a stellar performance –and some harsh luck– to defeat Mark Wetmore’s Buffaloes.
“An epidemic of flu in the Boulder county or something to that effect,” Fox said. “They are better than us, you know. Obviously, weird things happen in cross country all the time. But they are a better team than us, and Stanford has super talent. Those are two great teams. We have to have a special day.”
PROVIDENCE ROLL AS DARTMOUTH’S GIORDANO GETS JOB DONE
From the starting gun, Dartmouth’s Dana Giordano went straight to the front and held on to the pole position. Through the mile in 5:25, she was joined by a very large contingent that included Providence’s Sarah Collins and Stony Brook’s Christina Melian.
Having had a disappointing run at nationals last year –where she was tripped in the opening kilometer and wound up 45th– Giordano was supremely motivated to clinch a spot at NCAA’s and head to Louisville with momentum. Through two miles she kept her five-meter lead on the aforementioned duo, a determined look on her face.
Just before the final turn some 300 meters from the finish, it looked as if Collins and Melian had executed a perfect sit-and-kick strategy, surpassing Giordano. But the Dartmouth senior used a slingshot move around the bend to catapult to the pole, kicking with a vengeance and fiery spirit. Her gap would extend to 3.3 seconds at the line, where she lifted her hands in excitement with 20:25.7 on the clock.
“I’m really, really happy. It’s been a crazy season all around, some ups and downs, struggling with a couple things, but I’m happy to be here,” said Giordano, visibly excited and relieved. “I was ready to go [around the final turn]. I could have gone sooner, but I was just waiting. I was right behind them.”
As pointed out by Letsrun.com’s Jonathan Gault, Giordano gave Dartmouth their fourth Northeast Regional women’s individual title in five years. Abbey D’Agostino claimed crowns in three straight years from 2011 through 2013, and was on hand todaycheering her former teammates on.
“I think since last season I’ve been motivated by my unfortunate fall at nationals,” Giordano said, speaking of her strategy. “I felt good so I thought why not string it out [in the Wilderness loop].”
Providence was led to the women’s team title by runner-up Collins, crossing in 20:29.0 ahead of Stony Brook’s Melian (20:29.5). The Friars placed five women in the top 17, though coach Ray Treacy had mixed emotions about the race.
“I think we were a little bit flat today. They came in after we’d trained hard this week with next Saturday in mind,” Treacy told Race Results Weekly. “Just one more goal now, and we’ll see what happens Saturday. There will be a lot of teams gunning for second I think. We weren’t the second place team today, let’s put it that way. We weren’t even a podium team, I think, the way we performed today. But next weekend is a whole different ballgame.”
Collins said the team is simply focused on performing their best at nationals in Louisville, a course Providence knows all too well. The Friars finished a heartbreaking second there in 2012, when chip timing problems originally announced the team as national champions before protests were filed.
“To do as well as we can as individuals, and then put it all together to come out with the top team score can hopefully, maybe, get on the podium. But I don’t like jinxing things or saying things too far ahead!” said Collins with a giggle. “Take one step at a time and get as top a finish as we can.”
The NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will be held at Louisville’s E.P. ‘Tom’ Sawyer State Park on Saturday, November 21. Race Results Weekly will be on hand to provide exclusive coverage leading up to the race, as well as on race day.