Columbia’s cross country teams are set to compete in the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s Northeast Regional Cross Country Championships this Friday in Connecticut with more than just bragging rights at stake.
The top two finishing teams will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships, which will be held in Kentucky next weekend. Any team that places outside of the top two spots remains in contention for an at-large bid, which qualifies squads based on their current season performances.
On both the men’s and women’s sides, regionals will be a chance to bounce back from disappointing showings at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. Two weeks ago, the women placed sixth at Heps, a finish that they would not have imagined for themselves at the start of the season. Plagued with injuries to several important athletes, the women’s team has struggled to keep up with elite programs in the latter half of the season.
“Coming off of Heps, you’re going to draw energy from it either way, whether you perform well or not, but for us this year, it [Regionals] is definitely a big shot for redemption,” senior Mallory Anderson said.
For the women, seeking redemption will be easier said than done. The Lions face a field of 38 teams from the Northeast, including Ivy champion No. 8 Cornell, No. 16 Connecticut, No. 20 Providence, and No. 27 Boston College.
But Anderson is confident that success is possible.
“If we go out there, run the way we’re capable of running, and do something amazing, then we make it to nationals,” she said.
The men find themselves in a similar position. The Light Blue was expected to challenge Princeton for the Ivy title at Heps, but was unable to take the crown from the dominant Tigers, who have not lost in three years.
“We didn’t have our best race there, but we’re ready to go now and we’ve put in the work,” senior Leighton Spencer said of Heps.
Ranked third in the Northeast and 22nd nationally, the men will face stiff competition from 39 teams in the region, including No. 4 Iona and No. 14 Syracuse.
“On a team level, we want to get top three, and then make nationals, and then make top 10 at nationals, which is the overall goal of the team,” Spencer said.
A trip to Kentucky for both the women’s and men’s teams is not out of the question, but both squads must have big performances in Connecticut to make it possible.
“The stakes are really high and it’s the culmination of the entire season,” Anderson said. “Obviously if we don’t qualify to the national meet, then this will be the end of the road for a lot of our team.”