From Perth To First
It really doesn’t matter which way you fly from Perth in Western Australia to New York, New York, USA.
It’s a long-long-long expedition in either direction — via the Indian Ocean, Hong Kong, the Asian mainland, Europe and the North Atlantic (11,800 miles), or across all Australia, the Pacific via Honololu and the U.S. mainland (11,600 miles).
It still adds up to halfway around Planet Earth whichever way your jet pilot takes you.
Fortunately for Iona College cross country fortunes, Ethan Heywood had no trouble negotiating the long-long-long journey. The 19-year-old transfer student from the University of Western Australia in Perth — with sophomore status and 3:50 1500-meter and 14:30 5000-meter credentials — arrived on Iona’s New Rochelle campus four weeks ago and is already giving Gael fans plenty to cheer about.
He scored a decisive individual victory in the men’s eight-kilometer race at the 85th annual Metropolitan Intercollegiate Cross Country Championships Friday at Van Cortlandt Park, covering the classic 'Vanny' route in 25:53.71 on a unseasonably warm afternoon.
Even though the bulk of Iona’s talent-packed lineup — the men who led the Gaels to the team title last Saturday at the Greater Louisville Classic, where the NCAA finals will take place Nov. 17 — sat this one out, Heywood put a wide a smile on Iona coach Ricardo Santos’ face.
"He's an accomplished runner who has run for Australia before (with two appearances in the IAAF World Junior Championships) and it took a bit of work to finally get all his information but we did," said Santos. "We told him what we were all about and he was interested.
"We finally sold him on this being a chance to enhance his running, to take it to the next level, and get some different perspective on a lot of things."
So there he was Friday — all the way up from Down Under — as a gold-and-maroon-bedecked Gael running away from 110 Met pursuers from 11 other schools.
"There's so much different between Australia and the U.S. but I've adjusted pretty quickly," said Heywood. "I love it here and the guys on the team are really great. We've got such good vibes. Right now I’m coming off an injury but think I showed the coaches today that I'm ready to take the next step.
"Van Cortlandt is a tough course, and it's not just the hills. Mostly, it's the flat bit between the back hills and Cemetery Hill. You know it's coming and you know you've got to run it."
But it was NYU that ruled the team roost as Coach Nick McDonough's runners — led by sophomore Sebastian Oja in second place (26:05.61), senior Kevin Bonilla in third (26:22.49) and junior Dylan Karten in fifth (26:30.85) — took the handsome gold trophy. Senior David Knowles nabbed 14th (26:53.84) and NYU clinched it with sophomore Dharan Kadiyala's 26th (27:22.85).
All that Violet power netted the low team score of 50 points and brought the Met IC team title back to Washington Square for the first time since 2007. Runner-up Fordham (68), Columbia (78), Iona (111), St. Francis (136), Rutgers (151) and Wagner (184) led the pursuit of NYU.
In their tracks were Manhattan (209), Seton Hall (247), Fairleigh Dickinson (263), St. Peter’s (293) and Hofstra (372).
NYU may have been the only NCAA Division III school in the Met field, but Coach Nick McDonough took it all in stride.
"All our runners moved up well in the second half of the race," said McDonough. "We may not be as strong as some of our recent NYU teams (including the 2007 team that won the D-III national crown) but hopefully, we’ll be a top 10 team at Nationals, maybe even top five. We’ll find out everything in the next six weeks.
"We never really look at ourselves as a Division III chool running against Division I schools. "We don’t worry about any of that. We all get on the line together. We know we can compete with everybody around here."
It was a more familiar story in the women’s 5k Met Championship race as Columbia went 1-2-3 with senior Mallory Anderson (18:14.99), junior Caroline Williams (18:23.22) and freshman Leila Mantilla (18:25.82), then wrapped it all up neatly with junior Sarah Eagan fifth (18:43.52) and junior Chelsea Carrick seventh (19:03.37), leaving only Fordham fourth-placer Anisa Arsenault (18:26.8) and NYU sixth-placer Kristen Keller (18:58.88) to break up a Columbia clean sweep.
Settling for 11th place this time was 2011 Met champion Brianna Deming of Rutgers.
That gave the Lions the runaway total of 18 points, far outdistancing second-place Rutgers (66), third-place Fordham (79), fourth-place NYU (84), fifth-place Wagner (192), along with Seton Hall (197), St. John’s (206), Manhattan (208), St. Francis (245), Hofstra (249), Fairleigh Dickinson (324) and St. Peter’s (360).
Columbia's win streak has now reached 15 consecutive Met IC women’s XC races.
The women’s Met race was named for Lou Vasquez, the veteran, renowned and much-appreciated official who passed away last summer. He had worked scores of meets around the Metropolitan area and was a fixture at such familiar sites as The Armory Track Center, Icahn Stadium and Van Cortlandt Park over the years. His son, Lou Jr., continues as director of Icahn Stadium operations.
While it was Columbia’s 15th straight women’s Met crown, it was the first for Nicole Blood, the Lions’ new distance coordinator and assistant coach (to program director Willy Wood).
A nine-time NCAA All-America runner and four-time PAC-10 champion at the University of Oregon, Blood — still a top runner in the open category — brings her distance expertise back East and Wood has said, “I am thrilled to have Nicole on our staff.”
Met champion Anderson of Columbia is a senior political science/business management major from Madison, N.J., with just one leading post-graduate goal: “I’d like to get a job.”
"It was really, really hot out today but it was still a lot of fun," she said. "No one really wanted to take it out, to waste any energy. We had a really good Columbia pack up front. My teammate Caroline (Williams) kind of pushed the back hills, then I turned it on coming in.
"This a a really important team meet for Columbia every year. When we win it's always a big morale–booster … We have a really deep team and that makes it even more fun.
"Winning again is great. Now, we have new secret this year … and her name is Nicole Blood.
"With all that she’s done as a runner, Nicole is really, really awesome to have as our coach."
"My first year here at Columbia is going great so far," acknowledged Blood. "We have about 20 women on the team and they’re super competitive. It's working out very-very well for everyone.
"I'm still running a lot myself and I’m actually beginning to think about marathon training. But right now these (Columbia) runners are my own priority and I get in my own running, my own hard efforts, on the side.
"So far, it's working out well for everybody."