This weekend’s Big East Championship was cross country at its finest. With temperatures in the low 40s, four of the nation’s best women’s teams – No. 1 Villanova, No. 5 Georgetown, No.8 Syracuse and No.13 Providence – lined up on a flooded, muddy and hilly course in Jamesville, N.Y., to race for the conference title.

Not letting the mud or strong competition distract their focus, the Hoyas continued to assert themselves as one of the nation’s top teams, placing their top-seven runners in the top 20 and finishing second only to Villanova, the defending champion in both the Big East and the entire NCAA.

The Hoyas were again led by the duo of junior Emily Infeld and sophomore Emily Jones, who ran up front with the lead pack from the start. Jones hung tough with the leaders for about four kilometers until Villanova redshirt junior Shelia Reid and senior Amanda Marino made a move to pick up the pace. Infeld and Providence sophomore Shelby Greany went with the Wildcat duo, though when the pair made another move with 1200 meters to go, Greany fell off the pace.

Infeld, tucking in behind Reid and Marino stayed right with them both until the final hill about 500m out from the finish.

In a scene that played out almost exactly like the same conference championships a year ago, Reid won her second Big East title and Infeld came across the line in third with a time of 20:42.7.

“[Reid] and Amanda kind of took off, and my legs were kind of dead. I didn’t have the strongest finish, but I was happy overall,” Infeld said. “I just wish I would have had a little more kick, a little more pop in my legs at the end, but that will come.”

“You’re talking about three of the best runners in the country,” women’s Head Coach Chris Miltenberg added. “All three of them went on to place in the top 12 at [the NCAA National Championship] last year and probably can all place higher this year. It’s great for Emily to get used to racing at that level this early on.”

Jones kept her focus despite running by herself over the second part of the race, going on to place sixth in 20:56.8, passed only by Villanova senior Ali Smith in the final 100m.

“Emily Jones, just like I’ve been talking about all fall, has just gotten to a whole new level with how strong she is,” Miltenberg said. “Awesome job in really a tough situation like that, keeping her focus, keeping her confidence up, keeping her composure. [She] really ran tough.”

Coming next for the Hoyas was freshman Maddie Chambers who helped pull along sophomore Kirsten Kasper and redshirt senior Renee Tomlin. Chambers was with the duo for the beginning part of the race and began to move up around the two-mile mark to help close the gap that had formed in front of the Hoyas. Closing hard over the last 800m, she would give Georgetown their third top-10 finish, and the top overall freshman finish by placing eighth in 21:10.3. Kasper and Tomlin both stayed strong over the second half of the course, respectively placing 12th in 21:23.1 and 15th in 21:32.9.

Sneaking her way between Kasper and Tomlin, junior Katie McCafferty took 13th in 21:26.1. Working her way up through the pack, as she has all season long, and keeping Kasper and Tomlin in her sights, McCaffery closed hard over the last section of the course, moving from her position in the low 20s all the way up to 13th. It was a big step forward in what has been a long road back from injury and illness that kept her out of competition almost all of last year.

“It was really exciting for me, just because it’s been a little tough coming back this season and not being exactly where I want to be,” McCafferty said. “But this last race I was able to just feel strong and really finish in a place I felt I had to finish.”

Freshman Joanna Stevens rounded out the Hoyas’ top seven, having her best race of the year and placing 20th in 21:40.5.

All of the aforementioned Hoyas, with the exception of Stevens, garnered all-Big East status, but it was still not enough to beat Villanova’s talented top five.

While the Hoyas had the Wildcats beat on overall team depth, the defending national champions put all five of their runners in the top 11, posting a nearly unbeatable score of 26 points. The Hoyas’ strong effort and 42 team points easily beat both Syracuse and Providence who scored 79 and 90 points, respectively.

“I think [what] you’re looking at in the Big East right now, is that you might have four teams in the top 10 [nationally],” Miltenberg said. “I think the best thing for us is this is making us better, we get to go to [the NCAA National Championship] and we’ve already run against the best competition in the country.”

On the men’s side, the story could not have been more different as the Hoyas’ inexperience showed. They turned in one of the more disappointing team performances in recent years and finished sixth overall.

Senior Ayalew Taye was one of the lone bright spots, adding another solid race to his most consistent season on the Hilltop by finishing fifth overall and earning a spot on the all-Big East team with a time of 25:17.8.

Taye went out with the leaders, junior Lee Carey of Providence and junior Matthew Graham of DePaul, as the trio separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Taye kept with both Carey and Graham through most of the race but was gapped a little entering the third lap of the course and passed by Louisville senior Michael Eaton. Taye, who was unsure of some of the course markings and underestimated how much of the course was left, was passed just before the last hill by a surging Syracuse junior Pat Dupont.

Though Taye was pleased with his effort, the result still left him wanting just a little more.

“I’m happy about the race. I’m not trying to be greedy but I’m not really satisfied. … I could have been top two, but it just didn’t happen,” he said.

After Taye came redshirt junior James Grimes, who did what was expected of him and finished 24th in 26:05.7. Normally, though, that performance would have made Grimes one of the last scoring runners for the Hoyas.

Instead, he was second.

“[Grimes] finished right around where we projected him to finish. You can’t really ask for more than that,” Head Coach Pat Henner said. “Just the matter of fact that he should have been our fourth or fifth guy instead of our second guy, that’s what really was the effect on the outcome of the team standings for us.”

The Hoyas would have liked to see both redshirt senior Alex Bean and redshirt freshman Bobby Peavey perform better, though both ran decently to finish 30th in 26:13 and 35th in 26:26, respectively.

Rounding out the Blue and Gray’s top five was redshirt junior TC Lumbar, usually the team’s second runner. Lumbar, who this season has made his mark moving his way up in the field as the race progresses, never got it going and finished right behind Peavey in 36th with a time of 26:27.

Further compounding the Hoyas’ troubles was the disappointing performance of redshirt freshman Andrew Springer. Springer, who was coming off his best performance of the year at pre-nationals and looked to be a threat to crack the top 10, struggled from the start and finished 43rd in 26:35.2. Freshman Tyler Anyan only fared slightly better, finishing 39th in 26:32.4.

Overall, for most of the Hoyas it was a failure to catch up with the people they were supposed to close with from the start.

“It’s no mystery or anything like that. … If you’re not competing or racing with the right guys you just don’t have a shot,” Henner said. “I think it was just extremely poor race execution.”

After such a rough race, the Hoyas are emphasizing putting the performance behind them and looking to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships which come in just two weeks.

“Our guys know that’s not a Georgetown-level performance as a team, and they know it’s not going to happen again,” Henner said. “It’s very disappointing, [but] the great thing about the sport is [in] two more weeks we can go out there and do a great job.”

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