As the Binghamton men’s and women’s cross country teams both took fifth place out of nine in this season’s America East (AE) Championships at Albany last Saturday, three athletes delivered outstanding performances, each taking all-conference honors among the toughest competition in the AE Conference. Freshman Ryan Guerci finished 14th out of 84 finishers in the men’s race, sophomore Aziza Chigatayeva took fourth out of 87 athletes on the women’s side and senior Jessica Cueva-Scarpelli ended her last AE Championships appearance in 12th to win the first all-conference selection of her collegiate career.
“I’ve always wanted this,” Cueva-Scarpelli said. “It took me four years but it was worth the wait and worth all the workouts and miles. It was definitely fast and it hurt but it was an amazing feeling at the end.”
The results of the women’s meet were close, with only 11 points separating the fourth- and seventh-place positions. Binghamton took fifth with 134 points. Cueva-Scarpelli finished with a time of 17:41.14 in the 5K race, while Chigatayeva ran ahead among three UNH finishers. She went out with the three UNH athletes, staying with them for most of the race, but began to tail behind two of them in the last mile, still managing a fourth-place finish and continuing to outperform the majority of her competition. She clocked in at 17:04.95. Additionally, redshirt junior Emily Mackay, who had just returned from injury, and junior Hannah Mellino took 38th and 39th, respectively, to earn the Bearcats crucial points and keeping them in fifth place.
“I was really hoping that everyone would put themselves out there, which they did,” Cueva-Scarpelli said. “I knew as a whole we were going to try our best and that was good enough for me.”
Because of stiff competition from schools like Stony Brook and UMass Lowell and rough performances from the upperclassmen, the men’s cross country team only mustered a fifth-place finish compared to their third-place performance last year. Binghamton’s top-three finishers were freshmen; Guerci took 14th with a time of 24:30.08 in the 8K and was the second-highest-placing freshman of the meet behind Stony Brook’s Evan Brennan, who was named the AE’s Most Outstanding Rookie. Behind him finished Bearcat freshman Matt Cavaliere in 28th place (24:58.38), followed by freshman Marty Dolan in 29th (25:01.03). Overall, the Bearcats finished with 137 points, while Stony Brook took the title with 22 and is currently ranked third in the region.
“I had mixed emotions on the men’s side — it was a tough day but also very encouraging,” said Binghamton head coach Annette Acuff. “Our top-three finishers were freshmen, so I didn’t expect that, but at the same time that was fantastic for them because for freshmen that’s a rarity. You don’t typically see that many freshmen finish that high.”
Aided by good weather, a short travel time and familiarity with the course, Guerci’s time seemed to surprise Acuff. He was the first Binghamton men’s freshman to be named all-conference since 2009, when Jeff Martinez, ‘14, took 10th at the meet.
“He almost ran a minute faster than what he did two weeks ago and how he did that is just unbelievable to me,” Acuff said. “I think it’s a testament to Ryan’s talent.”
Last year, redshirt junior Dan Schaffer finished second overall at the meet but missed this season due to an injury.
“If Dan Schaffer had been with us this year … we still would have been fifth,” Acuff said. “I think New Hampshire and Vermont had much stronger teams.”
Binghamton’s next competition will be the NCAA Northeast Regional Meet. Coming off of Saturday’s result, the athletes will have to physically and mentally prepare to deliver good performances.
“I want to focus on what I’ve been doing these past few weeks because I feel like that’s been helping, just mentally preparing, eating the right food, getting the right amount of sleep and balancing out work,” Guerci said.
The NCAA Northeast Regional Meet will take place on Friday, Nov. 15 in Buffalo, New York.