By Andrew Grossman
At this year’s Yellow Jaket Invitational in Rochester, N.Y., both the men’s and women’s cross country squads finished in seventh place out of competitive fields of 23 and 24 teams, respectively.
Head coach Phil Jennings was pleased overall with both performances, although he feels that there is some room for improvement.
“It was the first 8K for the guys and the first 6K for the women so we just wanted to get off on the right foot and have a good, solid race and compete,” Jennings said.
Heading into the meet, Jennings knew that the field would be filled with a lot of tough opponents, which would provide a special opportunity.
“We didn’t know about the girls’ team, but for the guys we knew the top 11 regional teams from last year were going to be there,” said Jennings, a 10-year veteran coach. “It was good because there was a lot of competition for them.”
For the men’s team, it was the underclassmen that played somewhat of a surprising role.
“I want to give a shout-out to the freshmen who were in our top seven because they really carried us which was unexpected,” senior captain Andy Gallagher said. “We didn’t run as well as we could have, but as the team progresses and our upperclassmen step up, we will be a lot faster than (Saturday’s race).”
Gallagher led the squad with the top time of 26:06.1, which was good enough to finish 22nd out of 333 racers. Behind him, placing 36th, was fellow senior Mark Sidebottom, who finished in 26:23.4.
The top freshmen leading the pack for the Lions were Jack Leahy, Jon Stouber and Roberto Guiducci. They finished with times of 26:35.4 in 50th, 26:37.4 in 56th and 26:52.4 in 69th, respectively.
“For the freshmen especially, it was really good first race,” Jennings said. “We lost five of our top seven guys from last year, so (this race) was a real opportunity for everyone because we wanted to see them step up and they all did that.”
On the women’s side, they ran well but are still looking to improve for next week’s invitational at Richard Stockton College.
“The women were good and I think they made some forward progress,” Jennings said. “We beat some good teams, but we were also beat by a couple of teams we hoped to beat.”
The Lions were led by senior Cathy Goncalves, who placed 18th out of 360 runners and posted an excellent time of 22:47.4. Right behind her in 23rd place, junior Julie Jablonski finished at 23:03.1.
They were followed by sophomores Jillian Manzo and Tara Nealon, who came in at times of 23:44 and 23:45.5, respectively. The duo finished just outside the top-50, grabbing 54th and 55th place respectively.
Looking forward, Jennings is excited for the upcoming invitational next weekend.
“I think we can get a little better for next week and focus on working together a little more,” Jennings said. “If everything bodes well and improves, we can potentially do better than last year.”