As the 82nd runner crossed the line and the dust settled, both Binghamton cross-country teams found themselves second on the podium at the America East (AE) Championships. Saturday’s performance marks the highest AE finish ever on the women’s side and the best place for the men since 2014.
“It was very rewarding,” said Binghamton head coach Annette Acuff. “I think for both the men and for our coaching staff and, obviously, a big accomplishment for Binghamton athletics and the University … For the women, to get second, that’s our highest performance, and we’re certainly very proud of that and you get three girls that were all-conference, [it] was a pretty special day.”
The women’s effort was highlighted by the usual triumvirate of graduate students Sophia Ryan and Aziza Chigatayeva along with freshman Sydney Leitner, as they each placed in the top five. Chigatayeva led the way with her best cross-country finish of her career, placing in the silver position with a time of 16:48.1. This is the Bearcat’s highest finish at the AE Championships and marks the fifth straight year she’s placed in the top five.
“I was pretty confident in [Ryan, Chigatayeva and Leitner] because they have ran consistently well all season,” Acuff said. “Of course, [Chigatayeva] for several years now too and I know her, almost like the back of my hand, and she’s an outstanding performer … She’s finished top five in our conference five years in a row … So for someone to be top five, five years in a row, I’ve never had an athlete be that consistently competitive at a high level — it’s just outstanding. Very, very proud, we’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to work with her, and she just really supported our program and at a very high level.”
Ryan was just two seconds behind Chigatayeva with a time of 16:50.3 in third place. This is Ryan’s first AE Championship, and the Utah transfer earned first-team all-conference honors alongside Leitner and Chigatayeva. Leitner’s time of 17:12.2 was good enough for fifth, earning her the AE Most Outstanding Women’s Rookie. The only other Binghamton runner to achieve that feat was Chigatayeva in 2018.
“[Leitner] got all-rookie so that’s great,” Acuff said. “It also looks great for the future. Anytime you have freshmen come in, and they finish in the top five, and [Chigatayeva] did the same thing … [Leitner] has led along those same lines, so it’s exciting for the future for the women’s side.”
Rounding out the Bearcats’ top five were senior Carolyn Burnell and junior Sheridan Talada. Burnell made the trip in 18:15.8 to finish 20th. Previously, her best finish at the AE Championships was 42nd. Talada placed 38th with a time of 18:53.5.
“I couldn’t be more proud of [Burnell],” Acuff said. “It was a huge performance for us on the women’s side, she made the top 20. She’d never finished higher than the top 40, so she really pulled through for us.”
The men’s side also had a trio of runners finishing in the top ten as seniors Matthew Cavaliere, Ryan Guerci and junior Josh Stone all earned all-conference selections, finishing in three straight positions. Cavaliere led the way in sixth with a time of 24:18.9, Stone was in seventh at 24:23.6 while Guerci finished bunch off in eighth with a time of 24:31.7. This is each of their best finishes at the AE Championships.
“It hasn’t been an easy fall on the men’s side,” Acuff said. “But I really have to give our men’s team a lot of credit for going into the conference meet and being able to focus well on executing and just being very competitive.”
The final two scoring runners for BU were seniors Marty Dolan and Nico DeFelice, who placed 28th and 32nd, respectively. This is DeFelice’s best finish at the AE Championships, while Dolan now has finishes of 28, 27, 32 and 29 in his four Championship races.
This silver finish for the men is the highest they’ve placed all year after an injury-plagued regular season. Acuff says the men’s depth has been a weakness all season long, but their top five showed out in Maryland.
“For those men, it was a special day for them,” Acuff said. “They deserve so much credit for the accomplishment yesterday because that course was tough. They needed to put it together, and they were under the gun and they were under pressure to be able to do that, and we felt that as the staff too. So I’m just very proud of everyone’s effort and any accomplishment as a whole.”
Binghamton’s conference rivals kept up with each other all meet. UMass Lowell swept the meet with first-place finishes on both the men’s and women’s sides. The River Hawks posted a score of 38 from the women and 27 from the men. The Bearcats scored 79 points on the men’s side and 67 on the women’s.
Both BU teams will participate next at the NCAA Northeast Regional Meet scheduled for Friday, Nov. 11. First race is TBA at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, New York.