Men’s and women’s cross country sweep first event of shortened season

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Senior Ainsley Jacobs won the women’s race in 26:11, the first victory of her collegiate career. (Photo courtesy of Athletic Communications)

Drew Steiner

Lafayette men’s and women’s cross country began their long-awaited seasons this past Saturday at Loyola Maryland, with both teams taking first place despite harsh wintry conditions. Next up for the men and women is the Patriot League Championship next week, slated for March 5 in Easton at Metzgar Fields.

The men’s team beat American by a score of 34-21, while the women’s team took down two other Patriot League rivals in American and Loyola by scores of 33-24 and 79-24, respectively. 

On the women’s side, senior Ainsley Jacobs took first place out of 28 runners with a time of 26:11, claiming her first career collegiate win. Jacobs was later named the Patriot League women’s cross country athlete of the week. Sophomores Becky Hartman, Rachel Hurley, and Dannah Javens all finished in the top five, propelling the Leopards to victory. 

On the men’s side, junior Brian Clayton placed second out of 13 runners with a time of 22:22. Two more Leopards also finished in the top five, with senior captain Ryan Branch coming in at 22:24, good for a third-place finish, and sophomore Bobby Oehrlein placing fourth in 22:28. 

Despite competing in their first group event in about a year, the two teams returned in style. The weather did not. The frigid temperatures and wet conditions proved to be a tough test for the Leopards going into the event. 

“The conditions played a huge role in the race on Saturday,” Clayton said. “We really had to place a major emphasis on being smart physically and mentally to overcome the weather and cold. Additionally, on the course we had to work with each other to block the wind and stay engaged in the race.” 

It has been a long wait for the two teams to get back out on the trails again; however, no signs of rust were exhibited in the Loyola Invitational. 

“It felt so good to get out and race again,” Branch added. “Given the conditions, we didn’t emphasize time and just focused on being mentally engaged in the race.” 

Such an extended layoff from competition can also stir up nerves for athletes, but hard work in practice paid dividends as the event results showed. 

“The long layoff ended up being a very productive time for our team,” Clayton said. “We were able to focus exclusively on training and growth as athletes. Despite this, it was definitely a shock to the systems in the beginning of the event that we were actually back on a cross country course.

“In terms of nerves, this race was an opportunity to get back into the swing of things so we were just excited to work hard in a racing scenario,” he added.