One year ago, Buffalo senior Zach Ahart became the first Bull from the men's cross country to win an individual MAC Cross Country championship. Led by Ahart, the men finished fifth in the team standings, while the women finished seventh, both teams matching their 2012 results.
UB cannot boast an individual champion this year, but they can point to improvement over 2013. The men improved to a fourth-place finish, their best since 2011, while the women once again finished seventh, but with five fewer points than last year.
The women's 22:08 average was a 39-second improvement over last year, significant in part because many runners in the meet seemed to run slower races Saturday in Mount Pleasant compared to the rest of their season. UB was led by sophomore Corinne Birchard, who was Buffalo's top runner in all but one race this year, and the full scoring compliment was over the line within 50 seconds - the third-tightest pack of any team in the meet.
By place, the results don't look great - Birchard was UB's top finisher in 25th last year - but a look at the times reveals improvement. Birchard's team-leading 21:41 was her fastest 6k time of the year. Chrissy Clarkin and Gabby Leo are seniors and won't be returning next year, but UB's improvement with four underclassmen in their top seven bodes well for the future.
The men didn't meet their goal of a top-three finish in the meet, but came about as close as possible without actually hitting the standard: Ohio topped Buffalo for a podium finish by just three points. If any of UB's runners other than Alec Peinkofer had run just three seconds faster, the Bulls would have finished third in the team standings.
That said, like the women, the men saw significant improvement over last year, even with the loss of Ahart. Cameron Bruce did not pace the Bulls as usual, but didn't have a bad day, either; others just ran well. Alec Peinkofer earned Second Team All-MAC honors for his twelfth-place finish, and Kemp and Crimmins both posted their second-fastest time of the year. As a whole, UB was 41 seconds faster on average than their average finish in 2013.
The most impressive number I can throw out there, though, is that in 2013 the Men's second runner, Cameron Bruce, came through the line at of 25:59. As I said above, I suspect that this year's course was a bit tougher across the board, but every single UB runner came in faster at the 2014 MAC Championships than UB's #2 at the 2013 meet. That is a great and tangible sign of program improvement.
Better yet: the men's team doesn't graduate a single senior this year. Not from the scoring five, top seven, or entire team. For the men, missing out on a medal this year is just a slight delay of good things to come.
EMU swept the individual race titles, with Willy Fink winning the men's race and Victoria Voronko the women's. The Eagles also won the men's team title, but were kept from the clean sweep by Toledo in the women's team competition.
Congrats to all Bulls on a great season and a successful MAC Championships! UB still has one more meet on the season: the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships in two weeks in New York City. After than, it's time to start working on track season.