Updated: Jan 2, 2019
*Updates to the article will be made once our EDIT functionality is fixed*
In the world of distance running, cross country often takes the backseat to the road and the track. Outside of the high school and NCAA season, American runners rarely tackle the rough terrain associated with cross. Take the recent USATF National Club XC Championships as an example. While the top 10 included household names such as champion Ben Blankenship, Hillary Bor, Sam Parsons and Garrett Heath for the men and Kate Mackey, Allie Buchalski, and Emma Bates for the women, the fields are rather weak compared to even the 15k Road Championships (won by Molly Huddle and Leonard Korir).
The USATF Club XC Championships will probably be the only cross country race for all of these athletes this season as the USA Cross Country Championships in February hosts a much smaller field.
Now, this is not an article about the status of cross country within the American distance scene, it’s primarily about the collegiate results from the European Cross Country Championships. Yet, the European Championships are a reminder of the importance of the cross country season outside the US.
Still, the season is short, with only a couple of major races outside of the European and World Championships, and it competes with the indoor circuit for relevancy in the winter months. The European season is certainly not ideal in bringing professional cross country to relevancy, but the European Championships provide relevancy to the sport in a manner that could eventually bring cross country into a viable professional season. That’s why the results of collegians are so important at these events; they build a base for increased interest moving forward.
So without further ado, let’s look at some of these results.
Men’s Senior Race
Michael Somers of the NCAA 3rd place Portland Pilots traveled to the Netherlands to compete for Beligum. Somers placed 22nd in just under 30:00 to contribute to the 5th place finisher for the Belgium team, as they were only four points out of 2nd place. Somers had been the crucial 5th place scorer for the Pilots at NCAAs as he finished in 57th individually.
Florian Lussy of North Texas represented Switzerland after he had the program’s best finish for North Texas at the NCAA Championships in 149th. Lussy’s European Championships performance of 32:58 over 10km earned him 82nd place in his first international senior race.
Men’s U23 Race
TSR #18 Ryan Forsyth bounced back from an 11th place at the NCAA Championships for Colorado to a 4th place finish for Ireland. His 4th place result in Tilburg was Forsyth’s best finish of the season. Forsyth was 12 seconds off leader Jimmy Gressier from France.
Ireland took another athlete from the NCAA ranks in Jack O’Leary of Iona. O’Leary placed 56th in Tilburg over the 8k course and helped Ireland to a 6th place team finish. O’Leary had last finished 139th at the NCAA Championships and 14th at the Northeast Regional.
Temple’s Kristian Holm Jensen also made the trip to the Netherlands to represent his home country of Denmark. Jensen placed 81st in his final cross country race of 2018 after having placed 13th in the Mid-Atlantic Regional. He was Denmark’s sole representative in the U23 race. He will likely be looking forward to the World Cross Country Championships in March, which will be hosted in Aarhus, Denmark, his hometown.
Men’s U20 Race
There were no collegiate men in this race, but Ryan Oosting, a Stanford University commit competed for the Netherlands during his final year in high school. Oosting was 19th for the host country, the Netherlands.
Women’s Senior Race
TSR #22 Militsa Mircheva of Florida State, and more importantly Bulgaria, continued her 2018 campaign which saw her finish 25th at the NCAA Championships and reset the Bulgarian indoor 5000 meter record in 15:43.30 in the stacked Boston University meet on December 1st. Mircheva was Bulgaria’s only representative in the race. She finished 40th.
Women’s U23 Race
TSR #13 Weronika Pyzik captured the only individual podium finish for NCAA athletes in the Netherlands as the Oregon star finished 3rd for Poland, only 12 seconds off the win. Pysik had fallen off the pace of the top trio for most of the race, but finished hard to overtake Chiara Scherrer for the final podium spot. Pyzik raced the 6.3k course in 20:48. Poland did not have enough athletes for a team score.
Oregon earned another top 10 finish with TSR #30 Carmela Cardama Baez who finished 8th and was the second Spaniard across the line as Spain finished 2nd as a team with 25 points (three scorers per nation). Cardama Baez earned NCAA All-American status for the second year in a row with her 31st place finish in Madison.
Iona’s Egle Morenaite (TSR #32) just missed the top 10 in the Netherlands, finishing 11th for Lithuania. Morenaite led her country to a 10th place team finish. This result closed out an impressive cross country campaign for the Iona Gael who finished 28th in Madison and 2nd at the Northeast Regional.
Harvard’s Lisa Tertsch finished 14th in the race for Germany after her 100th place finish at the NCAA Championships. Tertsch’s finish clinched the team title for Germany as they defeated Spain by only three points.
Portland Pilots’ Aiobhe Richardson represented the Irish squad at the championships as she finished in 25th place. Ireland finished in 9th place in the team standings. Richardson had last raced at the NCAA Championships where she finished 57th.
Senior sister duo Eilish and Roisin Flanagan of Adams State represented Ireland. Eilish was the first Irish finisher across the line in 16th place, running 21:17 over the 6.3k course. Roisin was 41st in 22:07. Eilish was 2nd at the NCAA DII Championships earlier this month, while Roisin was 48th.
Women’s U20 Race
Famke Heinst of High Point was the sole NCAA finisher in the U20 race as she represented the host country, the Netherlands. Heinst finished 10th as the Dutch team earned 2nd place at home. Heinst missed the NCAA Championships after finishing 13th at the Southeast regional, but this result should end her cross country season on the right note.
Stephanie Cotter of Adams State represented the Division II ranks after her 11th place finish at DII Nationals. Cotter finished 25th for Ireland and contributed to the Irish team’s 6th place finish in the U20 race.
After looking through these results, I think there’s a couple of things to take away.
1. It is easy to forget the international nature of NCAA athletics. Even though only eleven current collegians competed last weekend, former athletes like Sean Tobin, Marc Scott, Liv Westphal, and Kate Avery appeared toward the top of the senior ranks after impressive collegiate careers.
Meanwhile, countless other collegians choose to take a short break between the cross country and indoor track seasons. It is a reminder of the importance of recruiting across national barriers and toward creating more opportunities for international competition. Exposure across nations will only increase the competition level of NCAA athletics and diversify the experiences of those in all areas of the NCAA. It may also increase the relevance of the collegiate season and experience on the world athletics calendar.
2. The cross country season is terribly organized. On its own, the NCAA schedule is clear. It follows an almost rigid schedule of biweekly racing from the end of August until mid-November with clear roads towards championship meets.
However, the professional circuit is poorly orchestrated, with US Club Championships in December, the individual championships in February, followed immediately by the NACAC Championships. The World Championships are in March.
But while the NACAC Championships are in February, the European Championships are in December, and the Oceania Championships for 2018 were in August. While each area must establish a timeline appropriate for their climate and athletes, the lack of cohesion diminishes the impact of the sport across the world. Establishing a World Championship in late December would allow some NCAA athletes to compete, create more incentive for indoor competitions in January, February, and March, and establish a clear competitive season for cross country as outdoor track concludes near the end of September most years.
Most importantly, it would incentivize regular season cross country meets for professionals or at least bolster the fall road racing season.
3. This meet illustrates the importance of individual plans in developing runners at the collegiate level. With the variety of opportunities afforded student-athletes across business, athletics, and academics, the individualization of plans and coaching provides the maximum optimization of athletic potential. Competing at the European Championships would not have been the ideal opportunity for every athlete, but ignoring opportunities because of a laser focus on the NCAA season does not serve athletes any better. By evaluating each opportunity in coordination with short term and long term goals, health, stress, logistics, etc. coaches and athletes can create the most rewarding and most effective seasons and training plans.
If we missed a collegiate result, feel free to contact Sean Collins at email@example.com or @SeanCollins96 on Twitter so the result can be recognized.
1:35PM (12/15/18): The performances of Adams State’s Stephanie Cotter, Elish Flanagan and Roisin Flanagan were added to their respective races.
5:00PM 12/19/18 The performance of Portland’s Michael Somers was also added to the Men’s Senior Race. A remark noting Florian Lussy was the only NCAA finisher in the senior race was also deleted as this statement was not accurate.