RRW: Syracuse, Providence Win BC Coast-To_Coast Battle In Beantown

By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

BOSTON (25-Sep) — The men of Syracuse and women of Providence couldn’t have asked for a stronger start to the 2015 NCAA Cross Country season, picking up commanding team victories here at the Boston College Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown at Franklin Park. Syracuse, led by overall winner Justyn Knight, put four men in the top six and tallied a score of 25 points for the 8-kilometer race. Massachusetts native Catarina Rocha finished third overall, helping the eighth ranked-Friarsupset No. 4 Georgetown for the women’s title. Stony Brook’s Christina Melian claimed top women’s individual honors.


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Syracuse’s Knight may only be a sophomore, but he competed with the poise of a senior here, running up front  before striking for the win. The Canadian national followed Coach Chris Fox’s orders, staying with the team pack through the opening kilometers before upping the tempo on the trails of Franklin Park.

At the mile mark in 4:45, the Orange made up a giant block on the left hand side of the trail, six athletes within a meter at the head of the field. They’d stay relatively tight through two miles (3.2 km), joined by Purdue’s Matt McClintock and Cornell’s Ben Rainero up front.

Exiting the famed Wilderness Loop for the final time roughly 6 km into the race, Syracuse had begun to put a stranglehold on the tempo. What was a giant pack now numbered five: three Orange in a line (Knight, senior Martin Hehir, and sophomore Colin Bennie), with McClintock’s black Purdue vest and Rainero’s white Cornell kit sprinkled in.

Only McClintock would break the Orange’s grip on the the top four, accelerating down Bearcage Hill and into the final straight. But it was Knight who had the best kick of all, cruising through the line first in 23:51.0. McClintock and Hehir made up the top three in 23:52.6 and 23:54.2, while Bennie and Rainero completed the top five (23:54.8 and 24:04.0 their times). Syracuse’s fourth and fifth men –Joel Hubbard and Dan Lennon– placed seventh and tenth, giving the Orange a winning tally of 25.

“I had directions from my coach, and we followed it out. We executed the time very well,” said Knight, 19. “The last mile I just made sure I had enough energy to go and just went for it… For Martin and I it was our debut race [this season]. That was just the plan; we didn’t want to overexert ourselves today but we definitely got a good race in today.”

What makes Knight’s victory even more impressive is that he’s achieved supreme fitness while running only 50 to 60 miles per week, with a long run of 70 minutes. He was Canada’s top finisher at this year’s IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships in China (25th overall), and finished 8th at last year’s IAAF World Junior Outdoor Championships 5000m.

“We’re just going to stay comfortable for a while and as the years go on [build up mileage]. Because I came in at very low mileage, I don’t want to break my legs,” he said. “We’re just trying to do it in the safest way possible.”

Coach Fox was extremely proud of his team effort, as their top five had an impressive 25.7-second spread (their top seven had a spread of 34.5 seconds). Fox said the team has taken on a professional mentality, and fully expects to challenge reigning champion Colorado for the NCAA team title.

“Overall it was great. No complaints today,” he said. “It’s our best team for sure… These guys are good track runners, and a lot of them have a lot of background now. They train hard and are very professional. It’s a group of guys who run like they’re pros. They live the lifestyle and are smart about the things they do. There’s just no goofing around.”

In the team standings, Syracuse’s 25 points topped Dartmouth (67), Purdue (82), and Cornell (93), among others. Florida State placed seventh (186 points), though ran without highly acclaimed transfer Harry Mulenga.


While Georgetown and Providence came in as top-10 teams and fierce foes, Stony Brook’s Christina Melian sneaked under the radar for the individual title. The junior from Staten Island, N.Y., found her spot up front alongside Syracuse’s Margo Malone and Providence’s Sarah Collins; the latter was racing for the first time since 2014.

Passing two miles (3.2 km) in 10:47 and entering the Wilderness Loop as a pack of three, Melian and Malone reappeared with 800m to go as a tandem, having slightly gaped Collins. The pair would battle step for step until Melian gained a meter edge down the homestretch, stopping the clock in 16:50 to Malone’s 16:51.

“Slowly but surely, as people started to drop back, I wanted to be one of the ones in the front. Sometimes patience is the key,” said Melian, who has never qualified for the NCAA Cross Country Championships. “I think mentally it sets me up really well, just gaining that confidence and knowing that I belong with the top pack. I only competed in my first NCAA’s indoors this past season so I’m kind of new to the whole thing. It gives me a big confidence boost.”

Behind the pair, Ray Treacy’s Providence put on a clinic as a team. Catarina Rocha overtook Collins with roughly 100 meters left, giving the Friars a powerful third and fourth place punch (16:53.9 and 16:55.6). Junior Lauren Mullins finished seventh, sophomore Brianna Ilarda 12th, and sophomore Katie Lembo 16th, rounding out the scoring five. Providence’s tally of 42 far surpassed runner-up Syracuse (127) and Georgetown (134). The placings were ever more impressive knowing Georgetown entered the meet ranked No. four by the USTFCCCA, ahead of Providence (8th) and Syracuse (19th).

“It’s good to be back,” said Collins, a member of Providence’s 2013 national championship team. “We’re really happy, and we just want to take things step by step: stay healthy, stay strong, never get ahead of ourselves. Just keep working off each other on the tough days, the easy days, and the tempo runs; just work together and continuously improve from race to race.”

Coach Treacy saw exactly what he had hoped for: a strong presence from top to bottom.

“I was very pleased all around,” he said. “Somebody said to one of our coaches today ‘On paper you don’t look very good, in terms of [track] times’… But they are great cross country runners and that’s what you do. I think even the 6 km distance will suit them a lot better, I think the extra K will mean a lot to us when it comes to the end of the season.”

For nearly ten minutes, Treacy spoke passionately about the team’s depth, strengths, and personality.

“They can control themselves on the cross country course very well, they know what to do and are smart out there, and they know how to run a course when they are on the course,” he said. Well aware that No. 1 ranked New Mexico will be hard to beat, Treacy said he’s focused on the team in front of him. He is confident, though, that Providence will be battling for a podium spot come November.

“They don’t fear anybody on the cross country course. This will give them a lot of confidence going forward, and that’s what I wanted to do, give them confidence. They are their own team right now; they are not the team from two years ago [that won the NCAA title] or three years ago [that finished second]. That was a different team. But one through five, I think this team is probably better through five [scorers]. Maybe we don’t have the big hitters up front like we had with Emily [Sisson] and Laura [Nagel] and Sarah [Collins] two years ago. But we can probably score four nearly as good as the other team did two years ago,” he said.