The Geneseo men's and women's cross-country teams traveled to the Penn State Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational on Sept. 17 with the expectation of facing top-flight competition.
That wasn't much of an issue for the women who finished third behind Ohio University and Georgetown University, the top-ranked Division I program in the nation.
The women saw quite a few "breakout" performances, most notably by junior Emily Sullivan, sophomore Bekah Steinke and freshmen Alyssa Knott, all of whom finished within the top 30. Senior Alyssa Smith led Geneseo, finishing 12th overall in a time of 22 minutes.
The Knights were still without, arguably, their top runner, junior Marissa Liberati, who is currently nursing an injury.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time," Liberati said, who will continue to work with the training staff over the next couple of weeks.
"[Liberati] gives us a chance to win every race that we're in," said head coach Mike Woods. "When we get her back, we can get on the podium at the NCAAs no question. We're a top four team with her."
The men were met with little competition, however, sweeping the first three positions and winning the team championship by a 12-point margin.
Senior Lee Berube won the individual title in a time of 25 minutes, 54 seconds with classmates Eddie Novara and Mark Streb placing second and third, respectively.
"[Berube] made it look so easy it wasn't even funny," Woods said. "He and [Novara] charged to the front and led from the get-go. I don't think they ever looked back once."
Freshmen Billy Gabriel and Ryan Moynihan also put together strong races finishing 12th and 28th, respectively.
"I would say that this is probably, if not the best freshmen class, close to the best freshmen class we've ever had," Woods said. Regardless, Woods said not to expect the freshmen to take on any more of a role, at least this season, especially given the quality and quantity of the seniors on the current roster.
"I'm going to let freshmen develop just like I always let them develop," Woods said. "It's an interesting dynamic. We have five seniors and two freshmen [in the top seven] and nobody in between."
The men were also without a key piece as junior Tom Clark sat out with an injury. The Knights expect to get both Liberati and Clark back to run at St. Lawrence University on Oct. 8.
Despite the Knights' impressive finishes, coach Woods said he had hoped for a more competitive field. In past years, the Penn State Invitational has drawn a number of upper echelon Division I programs, which Geneseo has looked forward to facing. Yet this year the field was somewhat watered down with even host Penn State racing only a handful of unattached participants.
Although only a minor footnote during the course of the season, Penn State's disappearing act did not go unnoticed by the Geneseo coaching staff.
"I don't understand their coaching philosophy at all down there," Woods said. "I'd never do that. If we're going to host a meet, we're going to put Geneseo people out there and try and win, or try and do as best we can. To me that's just hubris; that's pride gone bad."
Interestingly enough, Geneseo will host their next race at Letchworth State Park for the Geneseo Invitational on Oct. 1.