Cross Country Teams Eager to Hit the Ground Running

After Covid cancelled their 2019 seasons, the men's and women's cross country teams return to action on Saturday, Sept. 11. Led by a strong first-year class, the squads hope to compete for NESCAC titles.

Cross Country Teams Eager to Hit the Ground Running
Keon Mazdisnian '23 competes in the 2019 NESCAC championship.

The women’s and men’s cross country teams will debut entirely new line-ups when they compete at UMass Amherst on Saturday, Sept. 11 in their first meet since 2019.

Of the 13 members on the women’s squad, only five have competed at the collegiate level before. The team’s two sophomores, Nora Bannon ’24 and Annika Paylor ’24, were unable to run in the fall of 2020 after the season was canceled due to Covid. Newly added to the team are six first-year recruits who have shown significant promise in practices so far.

“We have a really strong freshman class. They came off of strong high school seasons and then really showed up in our beginning-of-season time trial and it looks like a few of them will be scoring for our team right away … so we are really excited about them,” said Mary Kate McGranahan ’23.

First-years Sidnie Kulik ’25 and Julia Schor ’25 are expected to have a particularly large influence on the team’s scoring in the first meet — both have recorded exceptional times in the past two weeks of practice. The team’s remarkable first-year class helped land Amherst a spot at No. 8 in the latest NCAA Women’s Cross Country National Coaches Poll rankings, an honor that came as a pleasant surprise to some of the older members of the team.

The top-10 ranking is also anchored by captains Maggie Drew ’22, Eline Laurent ’22 and Sophie Wolmer ’23 (Managing News Editor). Last spring, Wolmer was able to compete during the track season and qualified for the national championship in the 10,000-meter race. Wolmer posted a time of 36:20.64, earning All-American honors.

“Sophie is coming off of a really successful outdoor track season … and is a favorite to go to nationals so she’s going to be a huge factor in [our] team’s success,” said McGranahan.

Across the board, the team is eager to get back outside and start competing. McGranahan said the majority of the team is “amped and anxious to get back out there.” Gigi Chappra ’23 echoed a similar sentiment: “I think I speak for everyone that we’re just super excited to have a full season again and to compete again, and we’ve got a very strong team headed into the season. It will be a very different team since the last time [we] raced together but I think it makes things more exciting, competitive and fun.”

On the men’s side, the roster breakdown looks similar. While the team has 10 upperclassmen, they have seven first-years and four sophomores, none of whom have competed for the cross country team at an NCAA level yet.

Similarly to McGranahan, Keon Mazdisnian ’23 noted the men’s team’s strong pre-season, particularly from the first-year athletes. “We are looking good. We are a relatively young, inexperienced team but have some seniors with a lot of experience. A lot of people are counting us out this year because we lost so many guys [to graduation] but we are just excited to surprise people and prove them wrong,” Mazdisnian said.

The underclassmen on the team are led by captains Owen Daily ’22, Billy Massey ’22 and Ajay Sarathy ’22. “Our captains Owen, Billy and Ajay have done a great job leading by example, [showing the first-years] how to carry themselves during or outside of practice and how to deal with the stress of being a student-athlete,” continued Mazdisnian.

Luke Munch ’25 gave the upperclassmen leaders similar praise, citing their ability to immediately make the first-years feel at home on the team. “Cross country has already been a great time. The freshman class is super strong and has been welcomed into the team with open arms. Ajay, Owen, and specifically Keon have been fantastic role models,” Munch said.

Following more than a year of waiting to run competitively, Theo Dassin ’24 has pinpointed an acute sense of enthusiasm across the entire roster. “I can’t wait to compete with ‘Amherst’ across my chest. We are running for each other, our coaches and our older team members who have been waiting for this cross-country season for a while,” Dassin said.

Both the men’s and women’s teams are slated to run in five meets before the NESCAC championship on Sunday, Oct. 31.