Football wasn't the only UB team to start their season yesterday, though they do everything with a little more flair than everyone else. Buffalo's full complement of fall sports is now in action after Men's and Women's Cross Country opened their season racing in Colgate's Harry Lang Invitational.
This year's edition of the Invitational had much larger fields than 2014, when it was solely a dual meet between Colgate and Syracuse and UB opened their season in Pittsburgh. This weekend, in addition to UB, Navy, Bucknell, Albany, Binghamton, and Utica all joined the event.
To the extent that anyone should care about results, Syracuse is the cream of the crop among this field, boasting the #3 men's team and #17 women's team in the nation. But you and I shouldn't care about results, for one because for all intents and purposes this was a preseason race, with UB only even bringing 12 women and seven men, and for two because to even try to have runners operating at their best at this point in the season would be to set the teams up for failure when the more important races come; a typical training regimen builds up to a 'peak' that lasts a few weeks before falling off again, and to aim for top fitness now and to hope to carry it through to the MAC Championships on Halloween would be a mistake.
For what it's worth, Syracuse didn't win either race despite their rankings, so don't take it too seriously.
That said, it's not that we can't take anything useful from the day.
The men will be returning six of their seven top finishers from 2014's MAC Championships, but brought three freshmen today. Keeping in mind that this was a four-mile race, while most men's races are five miles, and without any knowledge of the relative pace of the courses, Everett Geiger put down a time today that would have had him int he mix for UB's seventh spot at least year's MAC Championships.
None of these runners were among UB's contingent at the conference championships, so it's good to see them get a crack at a race. Whelan in particular would have pulled about half a minute off his 2014 times had he maintained the same pace and the race been extended to five miles. Keep in mind that roughly this is Buffalo's second string - at least that's how I see it - right now.
The women have two departed seniors to replace from last year's group, but have also touted the incoming freshmen as UB's fastest-ever recruits, and put together some impressive times yesterday with more presumed first-stringers in the pack. I'll again offer caveats against comparing courses and reading too much into early-season performances, but this entire field of seven is well faster than UB's top performer least year's season-opening 5Ks in Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
In fact, Corinne Birchard, the UB leader in each of those early 2014 races and much of the season, finished 20 seconds behind Hopkins while still improving on her 5K times from last year. On the whole, the UB women look to be starting this year a full minute faster than last. That difference last year would have moved them from seventh to third at the MAC Championships. Same caveats as I've mentioned a few times here, let's not throw a parade, but let's acknowledge the good things.
Even the UB Stampede next weekend may not give us a great look of where the Bulls are at - we'd then have to wait another week for the women and another three for the men - but it's good to see another pair of teams under way and seemingly already improving on last year.