Voorhees (N.J.) grad Thompson debuts as a Duck; Pennings places sixth for Stanford

The college cross country season got under way over the weekend with low-key early-season events. Some top teams will not their use “A” runners for three more weeks.

Nevertheless, it was a time for some of the younger runners to get off to a good start, including Easterners who are in college programs across the country.

At the John Frank Invitational, in Corvallis, Ore., Melanie Thompson ran her first race as an Oregon Duck, finishing third. Thompson, who ran 4:46 in the 1,600 for Voorhees (N.J.) in the spring of 2009, redshirted last year.

“Finally!” Thompson said. “I’ve waited so long. It felt good to get out there and and be a part of this team.”

Another redshirt freshman, Ben DeJarnette (Atlee HS, Va.), made his Oregon cross country debut in the men’s race, finishing 22nd. DeJarnette did run track as a freshman in 2010, running 4:06 in the mile, 8:12 for 3,000 and 14:26 for 5,000 in 2010.

“It was great seeing Ben look strong, and Chris Kwiatkowski looked good for us too,” said Oregon Head Coach Andy Powell. “Those are two guys who haven’t really had the opportunity to run as much in an Oregon uniform.”

At the Jim Heuval Twilight meet in Reno, Nev., Stanford won the men’s and women’s races. The Stanford men opened the season as the No.-1 ranked Division I team in the country. (Villanova is ranked No. 1 for women.) Victoria Pennings, now in her third season at Stanford, finished sixth for the Cardinal women’s team. Pennings, a sophomore in eligibility, graduated from Warwick Valley H.S. in 2008.

Locally, the Iona men and Quinnipiac women finished first at the Stony Brook Invitational. Leonard Korir of Iona finished first in the men’s race, Hayley Green of Stony Book first in the women’s. Stony Brook held out its star seniors, the New Zealand sisters Holly and Lucy Van Dalen. Iona defeated SB 27-46 in the men’s race, while Quinnipiac finished ahead of Stony, Manhattan and Iona in the women’s. 

The University of Texas men’s team, which has two New Yorkers on its squad, has not opened its season yet, but they are optimistic. “We’re hoping to have an incredibly competitive team on a national level,” said Brian Rhodes-Devey, the junior from Guilderland, N.Y. “We have a lot of really young guys. We have a few transfer students. We have a really talented freshman class. It’s going to keep everyone honest.” One of those newcomers is the star halfmiler Michael Quercia, who ran 1:50.27 in the 800 in the spring for Marcellus (N.Y.).

Coach Jason Vigilante is welcoming a strong group of newcomers at the University of Virginia, including Anthony Kostelac (Albemarle, Va.) on the men’s team and Chelsea Ley (Kingsway Regional, N.J.) and Kathleen Stevens (Blacksburg, Va.) for the women. Kostelac will be reunited with his high school teammate Zach Vrhovac; the two of them were half of Albemarle’s national record-setting 4x8 team in 2009. Stevens was a member of the record-setting DMR team for Blacksburg in 2010. Also expected to run cross country for the Cavaliers this fall are Robby Andrews (Manalapan, N.J.), the halfmiler, who redshirted last fall, and female runners Morgane Gay and Catherine White, both of whom had abbreviated seasons in 2009-10.

The University of Arkansas opened its season winning its own Arkansas Invitational. Maryland prep Solomon Haile, now a sophomore for the Razorbacks, finished in the lead group, while Omar Abdi (Charlestown, Mass.) finished 14th. In Ephrata, Wash., the University of Washington had a rare college cross country dual meet with its cross-state rival, Washington State, winning both races. MacKenzie Carter, an incoming freshman for the highly regarded UW women’s team from Fayetteville-Manlius (N.Y.), did not compete in the race.


- Jack Pfeifer