Harvard’s men’s and women’s cross country teams raced across the country on Friday, October 14. Just south of Madison, Wis., juniors Acer Iverson and Maia Ramsden led the Crimson teams in battle against some of the nation’s best at the Nuttycombe Invitational. On the East Coast, at the famed Van Cortlandt Park course in Manhattan, NY, sophomores Ella Gilson and Reed Pryor led another pair of Harvard teams to the ECAC Championships, taking on Ivy League rivals Princeton , Cornell and Yale along the way. The men’s teams finished 21st at Wisconsin and 8th at New York, while the women’s teams placed 5th at Nuttycombe and 29th at Van Cortlandt.
“Nuttycombe is probably the most competitive meeting of the pre-season before the start of the Championship season.” Iverson said. “We’re playing all the teams that will be at the nationals and all the individuals that will be there, so it’s a really good measure to see where we are right now and a great opportunity to understand what we need to work on in five weeks. from now on when we get to the NCAA National Championship.
The emergence of the Crimson’s top runners in the top tier of the entire NCAA offers a glimmer of hope for Harvard teams that had lost key elements from last year’s teams to be eligible. Iverson and junior Graham Banks headline the top male returners, while Ramsden returns once again as a vital point scorer.
Iverson and Banks battled it out with a talented top pack in the 8K at Nuttycombe, which included American U20 5,000 meter record holder Nico Young of Northern Arizona University and European U23 cross country champion Charles Hicks of Stanford . Iverson was 8th in 23:22.1, just 10 seconds behind Stanford and Young’s top finisher Ky Robinson in second, while Banks finished close in 26th in 23:31.5. On the women’s side, Ramsden placed 7th in the 6K in 20:04.5 against a field led by NCAA champion in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters Katelyn Tuohy.
The move to running in the top tier of the NCAA is a new but exciting experience for these top returners, especially in terms of running strategy.
“I think in a lot of ways for cross-country running in front of you makes your life easier,” Ramsden said. “I don’t think it’s easier per se, but from a tactical point of view. It’s a lot less mentally taxing to have the goal of being stuck with girls leading because once you have [outside the front 30 runners] it gets tricky; you kind of feel like you’re swimming in people until the end of the race, whereas at the start of a big race, if you know you can hang on with that top pack, you can figure out your plan of game.
Nevertheless, it seems easy to get overwhelmed by all the distinctions that make up this top group. On this topic, Iverson described how having a mindset focused on the race itself is essential for successful execution of the race.
“When you’re in the moment, you can’t think about…who these people are [in front of you] are,” Iverson said. “If you trust your training, you know you’re comfortable there and you can be there, and that’s the most important part of staying focused and executing.”
On the men’s side, David Melville, senior, finished 140th, and Shane Brosnan and Vivien Henz, 179th and 191st, respectively. With critical points scorer Matthew Pereira graduating in the Class of 2022, having a combination of experience, talent and youth in the upper class gives Harvard hope for big improvement not just in the years to come, but also in the immediate future.
“With a senior or even a junior, you know more or less where they should be in a peloton and how fast they can really run,” Iverson said. “These freshmen have been on the Harvard campus for two months. They have a long way to go in terms of metabolizing training, learning to race against a lot of really talented competitors, so with the promising results we saw at Nuttycombe I think we can go further further away. The potential margin is much higher.
Although the Crimson team did not rank highly during the competition, Harvard’s postseason results usually exceed Nuttycombe’s, especially when competing for the NCAA Championship.
“I would say our approach as a team has always been to treat it as another chance to practice good running habits, but we’re not necessarily going to reduce or change our training for that, so sometimes our running results aren’t necessarily reflective of where we were as a team,” Ramsden said. “So that’s definitely what happened last year. We did pretty well at Nuttycombe, but we ended up beat a lot of those teams that beat us later in the season because we peaked for some of those last races. I think our [head coach] does a very good job at that.
After Ramsden on the women’s side, Maya Rayle (105th) scored the second for the Crimson in 20:56.0, while Isabelle Goldstein (165th), Penelope Salmon (191st) and Kristin Otervik (200th) filled the positions three to five.
In New York, the strength of youth and numbers also showed. At the CEAC Championship, Ella Gilson led the women’s team taking 7th place in a time of 21:28.3 in the 6K. Gilson is part of the Harvard women’s team that possesses strength in numbers, which is a crucial part of any team hoping to make a deep playoff run.
“It’s been an extremely exciting year for us, and I know our coach is super excited about how we’ve done,” Gilson said. “I’m pretty sure this is the deepest team Harvard women’s cross country has ever had, and hopefully it will be the best team we’ve had so far.”
Beyond depth, the majority of Harvard’s women’s team has several years of eligibility after this season, keeping its core intact as it progresses into the future.
Other scorers from Harvard to Van Cortlandt on the women’s side include Marianne Mihas (13th), Shakes Leibovitz (57th), Zoe Cooper (90th) and Cristina Demeo (138th). The Crimson beat Ivy League rivals Yale, Princeton and Columbia while losing only two points to Cornell.
On the men’s side, second Reed Pryor (36th) was Harvard’s top scorer with a time of 25:02.7 in the 8K. Noah Ward (49th), Sameer Das (52nd), Pierce Cousins (70th) and Ben Shryock (101st) finished close behind. Princeton won the match.
The Crimson are now focused on the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, returning to Van Cortlandt Park in New York, NY, on October 28, and the remainder of the playoffs, which may extend to the NCAA Championship tie. for both teams Nov. 19 at Oklahoma State University.