Bulldogs Head to Boston, Face Crimson in Season Opener

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John McGowan. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Cross Country Season Starts with a Bang as Elis Take on their Ivy Rivals

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—After months of intense training, the Yale men's cross country team will seek revenge against its rival when the Bulldogs travel to Franklin Park to race Harvard on Saturday. The Elis will be looking to turn things around after coming up just short against the Crimson each of the past two seasons. The annual Harvard-Yale competition—a highlight of both teams' schedules—has a little added excitement this time around, as, unusually, it is the first race of the season for both squads. Yale enters the season ranked eighth in the northeast region in the first USTFCCCA poll; Harvard is currently ranked sixth in the region.

"We had a lot of guys do some great work over the summer, and I cannot wait to see how we stack up with our Ivy rival," said Head Men's Cross Country and Middle Distance Coach Paul Harkins. "This is just the beginning, so it will give a great benchmark for what we need to work on as we progress into the season." 

The Elis will likely be counting on some of their younger runners to make an impact this weekend as they return only three of their top seven runners from last year's race. Junior Matthew Nussbaum, junior John McGowan and sophomore Alex Conner placed sixth, 13th and 14th, respectively, against Harvard last season. While Nussbaum emerged as a cross country star last season and McGowan cemented his status as one of the Eli's most reliable runners, Conner made his mark by running the fastest 8K time among all freshmen (24:42.1). Junior Tom Harrison could be another runner to keep an eye on this weekend. He set a personal record in last year's race, finishing just outside of Yale's top seven (15th overall – 25:32.87).

Meanwhile, neither senior Ryan Laemel—the Elis' cross country captain—nor senior James Shirvell—the team's track and field captain—competed against Harvard last year, but both are proven standouts and figure to end the day as top finishers. 

"We are setting our sights high this year," said Laemel. "Our first goal is to start off our season with a win against Harvard. We have a lot of respect for our sport's history and our rival. Plus, it's our first meet of the season, so we are bringing our A-game to Franklin Park."

Senior Michael Cunetta—who placed in the Bulldogs' top 10 eight times last season—will likely be a threat for Yale's top seven, as will sophomore Kevin Dooney and juniors Isa Qasim and Jacob Sandry. Dooney finished in Yale's top seven four times last season, while Qasim finished fifth on the team at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and Sandry finished with the second-fastest 8K time on the team. 

Six freshmen have also joined the team this year, and the season opener should provide some indication as to which young runners will be the ones to watch this season.

"I'm really excited to see how the freshmen compete, as I think they are one of the deepest and best classes we've had in a long time," said Harkins. 

The race will begin at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. Full results will be available on www.yalebulldogs.com following the end of competition.

Report by Zach Schloss '15, Yale Sports Publicity