Lehigh’s cross country teams kicked off this season’s rivalry competition strong, securing two victories against Lafayette.
The men’s and women’s cross country teams both beat the Leopards in Easton on Sept. 16 during their annual rivalry meet, defeating them 18-41 and 18-43, respectively.
Leading the way for the men was junior Aidan Lynch, who finished first with a time of 24:52:91 in the 8-kilometer race.
“It’s always exciting to get that win,” Lynch said. “We always go into meets expecting to win, but you never know what can happen, so it makes us proud to carry on that legacy that the runners before us have left.”
For the men’s team, this victory marks the 24th straight season the Mountain Hawks have taken down the Leopards.
Despite its track record of success, men’s cross country coach Todd Etters said competing against Lafayette still keeps the team on its toes.
“It’s a meet we look forward to every year,” Etters said. “The results for the past 24 years now have been in our favor, but it’s certainly a meet we don’t take for granted.”
Etters said he attributes much of the historical success to the student-athletes and how they always step out onto the course ready to compete regardless of their opponent.
The women’s team has also had an impressive streak against Lafayette, as this meet marked its 18th-consecutive victory.
Women’s cross country coach Debbie Utesch is entering her 26th season with the program. Utesch said she liked what she saw from the team in the rivalry meet and was especially pleased with how Lehigh finished.
“(Lafayette) had a really good top runner that kind of put her nose out front,” Utesch said. “We stayed packed right behind her and had a lot of communication amongst that pack, and then Lindsay MacLellan and Maddie Hayes were able to run her down over that last 600 meters.”
Senior Lindsay MacLellan led all runners in the 6-kilometer race with a final time of 21:56:10. MacLellan said she feels excited about her performance and the rivalry meet always draws a lot of passion and excitement from Lehigh’s athletes.
The Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry will have its 159th anniversary this fall, and while the rivalry began with the two programs’ football teams, the competitiveness is felt across all of the sporting events.
Since both cross country teams have already claimed victory over Lafayette, MacLellan said they hope their wins help set the tone for other Lehigh athletics teams to follow.
“That’s one of our favorite things in track is watching someone in a different event going before you,” MacLellan said. “Watching them have success motivates you to have success as well. And I do believe that watching other teams win before you (motivates) you to win as well.”
Lehigh will look to redeem itself this year — at the 159th football rivalry game on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Goodman Stadium — after falling 11-14 at Lafayette last year.
Following their victory in the rivalry meet, the men’s and women’s cross country teams will shift gears for the Paul Short Run, which will be hosted at Lehigh on Saturday, Sept. 30.
Lehigh will host over 450 college and high school teams for this meet, making it one of the largest cross-country events in the country. It will consist of four high school scoring races, six college scoring races and two open division races.
This is the 49th time the event will be held at Lehigh.
“They are totally different animals: the dual meet versus the meet that you’re gonna be on the starting line with 40 teams,” Utesch said. “But (the Lafayette win) should give us confidence that we have a pretty strong pack in the front.”
Despite the vast differences between the two meets, Etters said the Lafayette meet provides a good baseline for the team to succeed in larger meets.
“The part I like about the dual meet is you kind of throw away the stopwatch, and you’re just focused on trying to be better athletes,” Etters said. “I think for the Paul Short Run, if our guys can just ignore what the splits are and just look up and see a guy next to them and try to beat them, then I think good things will happen.”