By Danielle Silvia
While many college students were preparing for Thanksgiving break and gearing up for final exams, the College’s men’s cross country team and sophomore Natalie Cooper of the women’s team had an exciting weekend in Louisville, Ky., competing in the 2016 Division III Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Nov. 19. The men’s Lions came in 30th place overall in the 8000-meter race and Cooper finished in the top 50 in the 6000-meter race, ahead of more than 200 of the nation’s most adept runners.
Head coach Justin Lindsey saw the results as a positive.
“The men performed well,” Lindsey said. “It was a great learning experience for them and we have five returners from this group for next season.”
Two seniors, Andrew Tedeschi and Brandon Mazzarella, led the men’s team to a strong finish. Tedeschi, who qualified for nationals last year by himself, returned this year with his team by his side.
“(Tedeschi) went for it and was not shy about racing at that level, and I think last year’s race helped him prepare for this year,” Walker said. “Brandon Mazzarella also had a very strong race, which is great considering it was his first national championship and it was also his last cross country (season).”
The competition was fierce. In fewer than 30 seconds, 57 runners crossed in between the two Lions. Tedeschi finished in 85th place overall with a time of 25:19, while Mazzarella finished with a time of 25:41 in 142nd place.
Many underclassmen also contributed. Tedeschi set the example of finishing strong and guiding many younger teammates. Freshman Brian Mitchell was the third runner to finish for the Lions with a time of 26:25, followed closely by sophomore Matthew Saponara with a time of 26:30. Junior Dale Johnson finished with a time of 26:35, finishing fifth for the Lions.
Sophomores Quinn Wasko and Luke Prothero finished neck and neck, both nearly with a time of 27:12. The duo rounded out the top seven.
The men of the College’s cross country team had a strong season, achieving their 23rd straight New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship, a third place result at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships, and capping the season off in Louisville this past weekend at the Division III Cross Country Championships. This was the Lions first time competing in nationals since 2007.
As for the women’s team, sophomore Natalie Cooper was truly the team’s standout this season. With a very successful season guiding her to the championships this weekend, Cooper finished in 47th place overall with a time of 21:29.
Cooper started the race strong and by the time she reached the third km of the path, she was within the top 35. Her split time was 10:19 at this point. She completed the 6000-meter race — and her season — on an outstanding note.
“Unfortunately, (Cooper) fell at the finish line and lost a few places, but she raced with a purpose and was very close to earning All-American,” Walker said.
Cooper finished her season with plenty of accolades and honors, such as an NJAC Individual Title as well as a sixth place finish at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships.
With regard to her incredible performance this season, Cooper remains humble to herself, her team and the sport itself.
Cooper said she hoped to finish in the top 35 runners of her race. According to head coach Justin Lindsey, there are a few things that could help Cooper hit this goal next year.
“One of the biggest ways to improve on her performance is to get the women to qualify as a team next season,” Lindsey said. “Natalie is very team oriented, so having the women out there with her would be great for her. Gradually increasing her mileage will be another way to enhance her chances to crack into the top 35.”
Cooper made athletic history this year, as it was the first time any of the Lady Lions entered nationals since 2013, when the Lions qualified together as team.
The men’s and women’s cross country teams all exceeded expectations this season. The Lions will take time to reflect on the work that they have done this autumn, and then continue to train for next season as some will compete on the winter and spring track teams next semester. Walker said he thinks the rest of the men learned a lot from their experience. Cooper also has a fair shot at an All-American title, according to Walker.
“Natalie has a realistic chance of earning multiple All-American awards based on what I saw at nationals,” Walker said.