Both the Hopkins men and women's cross country teams ran spectacularly at their respective NCAA Mideast Regional competitions on Saturday with the women coming in first-place for the fourth straight year. Behind a sixth-place finish from freshman Hannah Eckstein, The News-Letter's Athlete of the Week, the Lady Jays once again qualified for Nationals.
The men's squad finished fourth in the meet and was selected as an at-large bid to Nationals, the first time the Blue Jays have advanced since 1977.
For the men, the race began with an arduous 450-meter uphill climb. All of the Blue Jays started out in the top 50 of the 317 runners, with sophomore Max Robinson placing himself in the large lead pack, and grad student Brandon Hahn right on his heels. The rest of the Jays stayed together in the top 45 going into the midway point of the race.
At the three-mile mark, the majority of Hopkins runners were neck and neck with Elizabethtown College's top five men, as they positioned themselves nicely in the back woods going into some difficult rises. After conquering the hills at the four-mile point, Robinson broke away from the chase pack, passing runners left and right, many of which had been ahead of him during the Centennial Conference Championships. He finished 15th overall in the race.
Hahn maintained his position, pacing the rest of the Hopkins team and beating Elizabethtown's third man to help the Jays' cause. He led a group of five Hopkins runners who finished within 19 seconds of each other to all but seal the fourth place spot. It was the best NCAA Mideast Regional finish in program history.
Robinson clocked in a terrific time at 26:02, with Hahn and freshman Austin Stecklair posting nearly identical marks with 26:34 and 26:37, respectively.
Coach Bobby Van Allen heaped praise on his men. "I have never been more proud of our men's team than I am today," he said. "They showed heart and fought even when they were down. They were poised, and our senior leadership of Brandon Hahn, Brett Schwartz, and Andrew Yen really came through in motivating the team throughout our championship season.
"This team really showed everyone how strong of a team we are in one of the top regions in the entire country."
The women's team also fared well, racing into first place at Regionals on the feet of Eckstein, who paced all Hopkins runners. It was the women's fourth straight first place finish at Regionals.
The race began auspiciously for Hopkins runners, as Eckstein and sophomore Holly Clarke quickly took position at the head of the front group, which was about ten runners, leading all 58 teams from the get-go.
Freshman Ashley Murphy trailed close behind in the chase pack, heading junior Liv Provost, sophomore Lara Shegoski and freshman Lindsay Sanborn, all of whom were in the top 35 of the race from the start.
Going into the second mile, all of the Lady Jays in the top 45 maintained their positions, with Provost, Shegoski and Sanborn steadily gaining on the lead pack, all while racing against a number of all-American runners. All three would finish in the top 35.
Eckstein and Clarke placed sixth and eighth, with times of 22:43 and 22:46, respectively, while Murphy picked up the pace in the last half-mile to cap a magnificent personal effort (23:13) and finish in the top ten.
Coach Bobby Van Allen would again give his Jays some well-deserved praise. "I am so pleased with how this season has gone," he said. "We are the youngest we've ever been with just two returners in our top seven from last year's squad with four freshmen.
"They handled the pressure well and ran a very strong race. This team is only going to get better and we're very optimistic about our best race to come at the NCAA Championships."
With the win, the women's team clinched an automatic bid to Nationals in Oshkosh, WI where they will meet up with the men this Saturday.