Racing in the New England Regional on the fairway of a golf course last Saturday, men’s cross country captain Ben Torda ’18 placed seventh, qualifying for the NCAA Division III Men’s Cross Country Championship which will be held in Illinois. Sarah Kelley ’18, women’s team captain, placed 19th in her race and made the All-New England team for the third time in her career.
The men’s cross country team finished ninth overall and the women came in 12th, which was a disappointing showing compared to each team’s sixth place goal at the beginning of the season.
“Our front-runners had good days and ran with the front-runners of our key rivals,” said Head Coach Peter Slovenski in an email to the Orient. “But in such a fast race we didn’t have the depth we needed to be competitive with our rivals all the way through the lineup.”
Depth in cross country refers to the time gap between the first Bowdoin runner to cross the finish line and the fifth. According to Slovenski, it is ideal to have this gap be less than a minute—a challenge given Torda and Kelley’s competitive times.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) swept the men’s and women’s regionals, running in a pack to shorten the time gap. Pack running has been a consistent strategy for Bowdoin’s team.
“We consistently have the top three or four [runners],” said Kelley. “It’s really [the] fifth runner that you need [because] they score. I think we did a good job of pair running, and Caroline Shipley ’20 did an awesome job of bridging that [time] gap as well.”
Shipley ranked second in the regional race amongst the Bowdoin women in her rookie season. Slovenski said he will be depending on her and captain Julia O’Rourke ’19 to lead the team next year.
Cross country races are inherently individual, but a strong sense of teamwork contributes to Bowdoin’s results.
“Running, especially distance running, is a very time-intensive sport,” said Torda. “So I think a strong program is one that’s fun so people don’t mind putting in all the miles and the time it takes. If people are enjoying themselves, they’re going to run well.”
No matter how hard runners train or how experienced they are, the race may come down to what they are thinking.
“[It’s] what you’re telling yourself in the last mile of the race,” said Kelley, who raced at Nationals last year.
The New England region is the largest of cross country divisions and known as the most competitive, according to Kelley. The top two teams from each men’s and women’s regional race around the country are automatically invited to Nationals along with the top seven individual runners at each regional not on these teams. The remaining 16 at-large bids for teams are allocated by a national committee. Recently, the New England region has been receiving progressively fewer bids.
“I think there’s a conference call with representative[s] for all eight regions [in the country] who try to pitch why a team should go,” said Torda. “New England is generally the strongest region, so it’s unusual that they only picked four teams. It’s a little ridiculous in my opinion.”
Some believe the politics that go into these Nationals selections do not give New England competitors enough credit for their fierce competition.
Torda will compete in the National Championship on Sunday. He is currently seeded 65th in the nation, with the goal of ending in the top 40s. There will be a livestream of the race projected in the 16th floor of Coles Tower at 11 a.m. open to all students.
“[Torda] has experience at the NCAA Championship,” said Slovenski. “He knows he belongs in [the] race, has seen the ceremonies and [has felt] the high pressure that can go along with national competition. [He has] a lot of composure in high-pressure situations. I think he’ll do well.”