BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Led by junior co-captain Jimmy Miller, the Lehigh men’s cross country team won its first ever Patriot League championship behind three top 10 finishes for a two-point victory over the Navy Midshipmen. On the women’s side, senior Julia Perry helped the Mountain Hawks to a fourth-place finish, their best since taking third in the 2008 Patriot League Championships.
"This is a dream come true to see these guys come in and work as hard as they have," said men’s head coach Todd Etters. "They put it all out there and it was awesome to be a part of this championship. Jimmy is about as tough as they get mentally and he was ready to go. He put himself in the right position and showed he is capable of some great things. It was really special to see him put this race together."
The closest Lehigh had come to the title before this year was a second-place finish in 1992. Navy entered the race ranked ninth in the latest regional rankings, but Lehigh was ranked three places ahead in sixth. His fourth place finish marked Miller’s first time as Lehigh’s top performer of the season, adding another accolade to an already impressive year for the Mountain Hawks.
"I’ve been at Lehigh since 1998 when I was a freshman as a student and it’s really nice to see all the work and effort of the guys pay off," said Etters. "Everyone in the program was a part of this, and this is something that happened because a lot of people put a lot of work into it. It is also special as an alumnus to receive all the congratulations and well wishes that I have gotten. Beating the caliber of team like Navy made this that much more special as well."
Lehigh placed three runners in the top 10 on the day, as Miller crossed the line in 25:41.3 for a fourth-place finish, while sophomore Ryan Mahalsky (25:42.8) took fifth and junior co-captain Tyler Mueller finished seventh (25:47.1). Along with the three top 10 finishers, junior Sam Bernitt placed 12th in 25:57.2, followed by sophomore Casey Gilboy in 26th (26:35.4), junior Russ Vignali in 35th (27:00.2) and freshman Evan Hardy who crossed the line in 27:01.6 (36th). With their performances, Miller, Mahalsky and Mueller earned first team All-Patriot League honors, while Bernitt earned second team All-Patriot League after his 12th-place performance.
"We were kind of scattered after the race because we thought that we may had lost, but when they announced that we had won it was awesome to see the team react and something I‘ll never forget," said Etters.
Lehigh’s four All-Patriot League performances are the most in a single season in program history, edging the three Mountain Hawks that were selected following a third-place finish in the 2008 Patriot League Championships.
Finishing behind Lehigh and Navy was American with 74 points. The rest of the field rounded out with Army in fourth (83), Bucknell finishing fifth (120), host Colgate in sixth (130) and Holy Cross (198) and Lafayette (245) placing seventh and eighth, respectively. Senior Chris Johnson of Colgate repeated as the individual champion after finishing in 25:11.0 on his home course, while Navy’s Steven Schroeder was the Patriot League’s Rookie of the Year after crossing the line in 18th as the first freshman of any of the teams.
"We’re going to have to reel in our emotions a bit," said Etters. "We’re going to enjoy this but we have to refocus because the expectations went up a little bit now, but so did our confidence. I think we proved today that we’re among the top teams in the region."
The only other Patriot League cross country championship that Lehigh had boasted leading into this year was the women’s 1992 championship team that defeated the rest of the field by 10 points, finishing ahead of Fordham 39-49.
Following the first title in program history, head coach Todd Etters was announced as the Patriot League's Coach of the Year becoming the first Lehigh coach to awarded the honor since it's establishment in 1991.
For the women, Perry was the top Lehigh performer, finishing in 22:41.4 on Harry H. Lang course, followed by sophomore Ingrid Simon who crossed the line in 23:22.0 for 11th place. The fourth-place finish is the best for the women since taking third in the 2008 Patriot League Championships.
"I was very pleased with how they handled the course," said Utesch. "It’s a slow course in general on the side of a mountain, but I think we got out and positioned ourselves well to maintain the position. They ran extremely aggressive on the downhill and that’s where our middle distance runners made up a lot of ground on the competition, capitalizing on their innate speed."
Perry was Lehigh’s top performer for the third time this season after winning the Lehigh-Lafayette Dual Meet before finishing 146th out of a field of 360 finishing runners at the 39th Annual Paul Short Run on the Goodman Campus Course in September. With the fourth-place individual finish, Perry earned first team All-Patriot League honors, while Simon and junior Jessica Kendzor, who crossed the line in 23:35.3 for 14th, earned second team All-Patriot League honors.
"The team that I saw race today was the team I was looking for all season," said Utesch. "They executed the race plan exactly. They got out there and did a really good job of navigating through the hills and terrain. We’re a young team running top half of the Patriot League, finishing only 16 points out of second. I now feel happy about where are and where we can go from here in the future.
"Julia Perry did a tremendous job," Utesch continued. "She was able to make some good, aggressive passes and earned first team All-Patriot League honors in her first year as a cross country runner. She had a specific plan to run up front and executed perfectly."
The three All-Patriot League selections of this year’s squad are the most Lehigh has had named since the second-place team of 1993 that also had three All-Patriot League performers.
Navy was the winner of the league championships, scoring 46 points behind three top 10 finishers. The Mids were followed by Bucknell in second (68), while Army took third (78). After Lehigh, host Colgate finished fifth with 147 points, while Lafayette and Holy Cross placed sixth and seventh, respectively, as they both scored 168 points. American placed eighth with 171 points.
The individual champion was sophomore Annie-Norah Beveridge of Navy with a time of 21:45.4, while Colgate’s Olivia Brackett earned Rookie of the Year honors after finishing fifth as the first freshman to cross the line on her home course.
"Coming into today we knew Navy was good, but after that, second through seventh were up for grabs," said Utesch. "We had talked about doing something different as a team in order to make a difference in the final score and finish in the top half of the Patriot League. We had to be in the top 30 at the mile mark and we finally were able to create some confidence and get out in front.
"This meet definitely created positive momentum going forward," Utesch continued. "I think getting out in front and holding onto their position will build our confidence and we have a chance to be a top 15 team in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Rankings."
Both teams will now compete in the Mid-Atlantic Qualifiers in University Park, Pa. on November 9 for a chance to advance to the NCAA Championships which will be held in Louisville, Ky. on November 17.