Cross Country: Saturday is for the girls

Part of the girls cross country team practices on the track to improve their speed. Many of the athletes in cross country continue their season into track and field (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

On a historic Saturday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the University of Connecticut women’s cross country program captured the American Athletic Conference Championship for the first time in school history, while the men’s team placed second for the second time in school history.

Led by American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year Brianna O’Brien, the Huskies put forth their best meet of the year. O’Brien came in second place on the day with a time of 21:24.5, an average mile time of 5:49.2.

“Congrats to Brianna on the most outstanding freshman of the year award. I am very proud of this team for winning the first XC conference title since I’ve been here and the first in team history,” head coach J.J. Clark said, per UConn Athletics.

Just like they have done all season, the Huskies finished as a pack freshman Mia Nahom and junior Haley Hasty came in third and fourth place with times of 21:22.4 and 21.52.5, respectively. Junior Courtney Akerley crossed the finish line 11 seconds later with a time of 22:03.3, finishing in 11th place. Sophomore Danielle Jordan was the fifth Husky runner to finish in the top-15, landing in 14th place at a clip of 22.05.0.

“The team had a super meet,” Clark said. “They executed a plan very well and stayed composed on a very tough course. Three runners in the top-5 is outstanding and five runners in the top-15 is fantastic. We were able to put six runners in front of SMU’s fifth runner to help us solidify a team win.”

Clark and his staff were also honored with the American Athletic Conference Coaching Staff of the Year award after leading the Huskies to their first ever title.

The Huskies scored 34 points on the day which was more than enough for them to make program history. Last year’s AAC Champion the SMU Rebels came in second-place, 29 points behind UConn with a score of 63. SMU sophomore runner Hannah Miller finished in first place with a time of 21:18.9, 24 seconds ahead of O’Brien in second. Temple rounded out the top-three with a final score of 92.

Not to be overlooked was the UConn men’s team, which fought tooth and nail with the men’s AAC champion Tulsa, coming up just short in their efforts for the title.

“It was a tough, tough meet today and the race was up in the air right up to the end,” head coach Greg Roy said, per UConn Athletics. “Tulsa got away early, but I thought we kept coming at them, it just wasn’t quite enough today. Our kids ran well, very proud of all of them. Tulsa is perennially a top-25 team and they are tough to beat.  They did a good job.  I thought we went right at them.”

Tulsa came in first place with a total score of 53 points to capture their fourth consecutive AAC title finishing with an average time of 25:42. The Huskies would come up just 10 points short with a score of 62, with a team average time of 25:52.Temple would round out the top-three scoring 70 points.

The Huskies placed six runners within the top-20, led by two upperclassmen in the top-seven. Junior Patrick Begley led the pack on the day as the first Husky to cross the finish line in sixth place with a time of 25:26.8. Senior captain Mike O’Donnell finished in seventh at a clip of 24:34.0 in his last AAC Championship appearance.

“The team competed well today,” O’Donnell said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and today was an all-out battle. If, as a freshman, you told me we could compete with a top-25 team, I would say that’s crazy, but from now on that is going to be the norm for this program. This bodes well for the future of UConn cross country.”

The final four runners in the top-20 were junior Kyle Brackman in 15th, sophomore James Mas in 16th, sophomore P.J. Garmon in 19th and sophomore Ian Mickool, who rounded the group out in 20th.

The UConn women are scheduled to try and continue their historic season Saturday, Nov. 11 when they compete in the NCAA Northeast Regionals in Buffalo, N.Y. The men will also be competing in the Regionals on Nov. 10.  

We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and today was an all-out battle. If, as a freshman, you told me we could compete with a top-25 team, I would say that’s crazy, but from now on that is going to be the norm for this program. This bodes well for the future of UConn cross country
— Senior captain Mike O'Donnell

Kenny Beardsley is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kenneth.beardsley_iii@uconn.edu.