Cross Country Teams Looking To Pick Up Where They Left Off Last Season

by John Jackson Sports Editor

The Manhattan College men’s and women’s cross country teams performed extremely well last season and are looking to pick up where they left off this season as well.

The 2017 season saw the men finish first of five at the Fordham Fiasco race, second of seven at the Monmouth Invitational, 21st of 30 at the Paul Short Run, second of eight at the Metropolitan Championships, second of 11 at the MAAC Championships, 19th of 37 at the NCAA Regionals and fifth of 25 at the IC4A Championships.

Pacing the Jaspers on the men’s side last season were alumnus John Dove and current senior Amir Khaghani.

While Dove is no longer running for the Jaspers, Khaghani has a year left to help out the team and improve upon his impressive results from 2017. That included a third place finish at Fordham, third at Monmouth, fourth at the Met Championships, ninth of 144 at the MAAC Championships, 69th of 254 at the NCAA Regionals and 22nd of 203 at the IC4As.

The women experienced similar success as they ranked among the top at a variety of the meets. They finished first of six at the Fordham Fiasco race, third of eighth at the Monmouth Invitational, 29th of 34 at the Paul Short Run, first of 10 at the Metropolitan Championships, fourth of 11 at the MAAC Championships, 30th of 36 at the NCAA Regionals and 11th of 25 at the ECAC Championships.

A large part of the women’s success last season came from senior Lisa Fajardo who had a phenomenal season. Some of her highlights include winning at the Fordham Fiasco race and Monmouth Invitational, placing second at the Metropolitan Championships, placing third in the MAAC Championships and breaking a Manhattan College record at the ECAC Championships by placing third of 209 and finishing the 5,000-meter race in 17:58.9.

Both teams’ seasons kicked off at Van Cortlandt Park on Saturday, Sept. 8 at the annual Fordham Fiasco race. Although Fordham isn’t in the MAAC Conference, the fact they are so closely located in the Bronx makes them a regular non-conference opponent for most of the teams on campus. While each team may have a different experience with Fordham, the cross country team has more of a friendly rivalry due to practicing alongside them at Van Cortlandt Park and the fact that Head Coach Kerri Gallagher is an alumnus of Fordham.

“As a team, we have a lot of respect for Fordham since we see them often when we train in Van Cortlandt,” Fajardo said via email. “Also, Coach Kerri ran for Fordham’s head coach, Tom Dewey. There is definitely satisfaction when we beat them, but I would say it is more of a friendly rivalry.”

Khaghani shared similar sentiments to that of Fajardo.

“I think there’s a fun little competitiveness, but it’s also fun like we know them, we see them a lot of the time in the park because they’ll come and work out, so there’s no bad blood, it’s just like a little fun competitiveness,” said Khaghani.

A week before the race, Fajardo also shared her thoughts about the race.

“Next Saturday is going to be our first time racing in a long time, so there aren’t really any specific goals other than to get out there, race smart, and give our best effort on that day,” Fajardo said in an email statement. “We won this meet last year, (men and women) so it would be great to come back and do it again!”

Neither the men nor the women won the race as a team, but they still finished high in a meet that included more teams overall. The men took second place out of 11 teams and the women took third out of 13 teams. Both teams were also able to top Coach Gallagher’s alma mater.

Leading up to the race, and thus the start of the season, Khaghani expressed his excitement for his fourth year as well as seeing the freshmen begin their first year.

“I think it’s just an exciting time,” said Khaghani. “And we have a lot of freshmen. It’s about 10 new people on the team so that’s a really exciting time and with the races coming up, we want to really see how the freshmen will do because they’re the little bit of the unknown.”

Two of those unknown talents were big contributors for the Jaspers on Saturday. Ryan Tierney finished in 20th place out of 112 in the 8,000-meter race for the men and Hali Ielfield finished third of 124 in the 5,000-meter race for the women.

Overall on the men’s side, senior Chad Maier paced the Jaspers as he placed second out of the 112 runners with a time of 26:05.60 in the 8K.

The biggest story out of the race came from Fajardo herself as she broke the aforementioned school record for the 5,000-meter race which she set herself at the ECAC Championships in 2017. The new record of 17:53.77 was more than five seconds better than the prior record which lasted less than a year.

Fajardo slightly switched up how she trained in the offseason and although she couldn’t compare it to her usual training, she put her trust in Coach Gallagher that it would all pay off and work out in the end.

“My training this summer involved running a lot more mileage, as well as training in higher temperatures and higher humidity, so I can’t really compare my progress to last summer, but changing things up is good sometimes, and I trust Coach Gallagher,” said Fajardo via email.

Although the first race has come and passed, it is only the first race and regardless of the promising rookies, the solid team effort and the record-breaking performance, Khaghani knew there are bigger fish to fry.

“That’s a big thing that we want to work on is not just being competitive in the MAAC, but being competitive in the Northeast and on the East Coast,” said Khaghani.

The teams will head to Wappingers Falls, NY in a few days as they race at Army. They’ll have six days to recover from Saturday which will be a good way to get them used to running on tired legs and help them build up for their bigger races later in the semester.

“We’ll have time to recover, but it is so early in the season so it’s more about getting good training in and sort of learning to run on tired legs and not getting full recovery because you don’t want to peak this early in the season,” said Khaghani. “The bigger races are MAACs, [NCAA] Regionals and IC4As so it’s sort of using it to continue building strength and endurance to be able to make it all the way through November,” said Khaghani.