The Georgetown cross-country program split squads on Saturday to compete in a pair of season-opening matches. The No. 5 women’s squad clinched an easy first-place victory in a six-team field at the James Madison University Invitational in New Market, Va. The No. 29 men’s team fell to a third-place finish in a 10-team field at the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational in State College, Pa.

In preparation for its meet in New Market, the women’s squad emphasized the importance of establishing a race template that it could utilize in future races. According to Head Coach Michael Smith, the team did indeed get a solid grasp of its race routine.

“The objectives of the first race, being the first race in a long season, were achieved, and there’s just no shortcut for that,” Smith said.

Led by senior All-American Katrina Coogan, the women’s team raced well and captured five of the top six spots at the JMU meet. Coogan blew away the competition and covered the 5,200-meter distance in 17:46:00, beating the previous course record set in 2009. A veteran group of Hoya runners rounded out the remaining top-four finishers: senior All-American Andrea Keklak finished second overall with the third-fastest time in course history. Junior Haley Pierce, senior Annamarie Maag and senior Kelsey Smith finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

“I was impressed with how certain people worked through their discomfort,” Smith said. “The only place you can practice that is in racing, so because it’s the first race, we haven’t practiced that. I was happy to see that the natural response was a lot of toughness out there. For the most part, I think we did a really good job with it.”

Strong performances all around earned Georgetown an impressive final score of 17 in a sport where a better race means a lower score. James Madison University finished second with 57 points. George Mason University, the Virginia Military Institute, Longwood University and Concord University rounded out the remaining pool of teams.

Led by sophomore Scott Carpenter and junior Darren Fahy, the men’s team started out strong in the 5.2-mile race at the Spiked Shoe Invitational. Unfortunately, rainy weather created muddy course conditions that prohibited the team from achieving higher than a third-place spot in a field of 10. Around the 4-mile marker, both sophomore Jonathan Green and junior Ahmed Bile fell mid-race.

“We got a little unlucky that two of our best guys fell at such a crucial point, but I don’t think that that was necessarily a huge factor,” Assistant Coach Brandon Bonsey said.

Carpenter finished fifth overall for the Hoyas, and Fahy came in two seconds after Carpenter to notch seventh place. Bile, Green and senior John Murray finished 11th, 12th and 13th, respectively. Absent from the field were veteran runners senior Collin Leibold and graduate student Brian King.

“We basically just took the philosophy that anyone that we weren’t 100 percent sure was ready to race, we weren’t going to race them. Both those guys are fine but weren’t at 100 percent, ” Bonsey said. “They’re training great, and they’ve won high-level cross-country in the past, so I know when we have them in we’re going to be a lot better. Obviously, I think the outcome of Saturday would have been much different had Brian and Collin been in the race.”

Finishing first overall was host school Pennsylvania State University, who had 41 points, followed by Syracuse University at 47 and Georgetown at 48. Saint Joseph’s University and the University of Pittsburgh rounded out the top five squads.

“For Penn State, it was their home meet, and they were pretty pumped up and they did a great job over the last mile,” Bonsey said. “I think they were in a better position than us with a mile to go, and they competed a little bit harder than us in that last mile. I think the win was there for the taking, and I think we just missed an opportunity to beat two really good programs.”

Although Bonsey emphasized that the race was not intended to be overwhelmingly results-oriented, the final standing for the Hoyas was still disappointing.

“I didn’t want this meet to be too results-oriented. I more wanted our guys to be following our race plan and taking what results we got, but I think the guys were too tentative early on in the race, and because of that it cost us the opportunity to beat two really good programs. I saw some pretty good things, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t very happy with the result,” he said.

Both cross-country teams’ next meets will be in two weeks at Boston’s Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown.

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