By Shanna O’Mara
Senior Nicolette Mateescu led the women’s cross-country team on Oct. 31 at the MAAC Championships, setting two university records of place and time as she finished third overall on the Rosedale Park 6,000-meter course in 21:17.21.
“The race plan going into the meet was to just stay with the front pack essentially the whole time,” Mateescu said. “And just follow what they were doing until there was about 2k to go. Then, [Head Coach Bob Hamer] wanted us to press a little bit.”
Mateescu was named All-MAAC along with her teammate and training partner, senior Emily Ritter. Ritter placed sixth overall among 161 runners in 21:26.47.
“[Mateescu] is a three time All-MAAC performer in cross-country, and I am really proud of her accomplishments,” Hamer said. “She is the second runner in Rider women’s history to accomplish this. The first was current Assistant Coach Meg Elgin.
“Niky has really developed into a great college runner. We are in a very competitive conference, and she is going toe-to-toe with the best. She is very good at reflecting on what has worked and what she needs to do differently to improve on each race. If she has a subpar race, she is able to make adjustments and have some really great improvement in the next race. Niky is not the most talented runner out there, but she makes up for that with effort, grit, and determination. ”
The women placed fourth of 11 teams although they had hoped to place a bit higher.
“We came up a little short of our team goal the other day,” Ritter said. “But we did have some great performances. I personally didn’t have the performance I had hoped for, but I am honored to have finished off my last collegiate conference championship race with these ladies.”
Although the top two runners will graduate and leave the underclassmen to fend for themselves, Hamer sees great potential in the future of the team.
“Emily and Niky have set the standard and led the way for the women’s team the last few years,” he said. “They have raised the bar very high, and the hope is that others will try to emulate their accomplishments. The best ones eventually all graduate, so we will have some big spikes to fill next year.”
Junior Megan McGarrity is one runner who will likely uphold the team’s tradition of success. At the 2013 MAAC Championships, she covered the course in 24:02 and was the third Bronc to finish and 26th overall. This year, she placed 18th in 22:15.29, just three spots short of All-MAAC honors.
The Rider men placed ninth with sophomore Danniel Belay leading the pack. Finishing the 8,000-meter course in 24:52.9, Belay placed 24th overall among the 168 runners in a time of 24:52.9.
“The MAAC conference Championship meet is a meet that carries huge significance not only to me but for the rest of this team because our training for the entire year is geared toward being successful at this meet,” Belay said. “This is the first of three meets that is a part of our championship season and this meet sets the tone.
“Being a sophomore and leading this team at the championships was a great experience for me, and I’m definitely satisfied that I was able to set a personal record for myself. I credit my performance to Coach Hamer and my teammates who push me every day at practice.
“I have been able to build up my confidence steadily throughout the season, and the fact that I have stayed injury-free and I have been training up to the level that I’ve wanted will be a big confidence booster going into the last two meets of the championship season and into indoor track as well.”
After overcoming an injury, Belay had to regain his confidence in order to race to the best of his ability.
“Danniel has improved greatly from the beginning of the season,” Hamer said. “He was injured all track season last year, and that really set him back. He finally had the lightbulb go off, and he realized that he was able to train and compete at a higher level. He is now realizing the results of his increased efforts. A lot of it is just his growth in confidence. You cannot race well without confidence.”
Other impressive Bronc performances came from junior Brad Kaufmann who placed 27th in 24:55.1, and junior Connor Szwetkowski, who ran the course in 25:22.63, finishing 49th. Sophomore Nick Kontos was 50th in 25:23.35, and senior Sam Knipper ran a 25:38.38 to place 58th.
“As a team, we did come up well short of our expectations,” Belay said. “Our goal the entire season for this meet was to finish among the top five teams and finishing ninth was a huge disappointment for us.”
Although the men’s team did not perform as well as they had hoped, many did receive academic honors, which helped boost spirits.
Named to the MAAC All-Academic team were Szwetkowski, Kontos and Knipper along with seniors Jon Knipper, Tom McLaughlin and Sean Mulqueen; juniors Phil DeFroscia, Andrew Gordon and Johnathan Jackson; and sophomores Salman Khalid, Anthony Mills and Mike Pinnola.
“It is always great to have our student athletes excel in the classroom and the course,” Hamer said. “We stress the importance of academics and we celebrate those achievements as much as we do the athletic ones. We really look for student athletes who want to be great in all aspects of their lives.”
The cross-country team will compete at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships in Princeton on Nov. 13.
“We are now focusing our attention to the regional meet in two weeks where we can hopefully come together and have a lot of success,” Ritter said.