The women’s cross country team has had an excellent start to its 2019-2020 season. Spearheaded by dominating performances from CAS and Steinhardt first-years Leah Haley and Siena Moran, the team won its season opener and finished in second place at the Ron Stonitsch Invitational and the Fred Pavlich Invitational this past weekend.
“It almost hasn’t hit yet,” Haley said. “The first race I was like, ‘Oh wait, why am I in this jersey?’”
Haley has been running ever since she was a child, and she attributes her interest in the sport to her father and sister, who also ran cross country for NYU. With three top-four finishes under her belt so far this season, the CAS first-year and Northern California native only hopes to get better.
“I know our goals are to be some of the top freshmen,” Haley said. “I definitely think that’s a good goal to shoot for and to just push ourselves to be better.”
Moran only started running competitively in her sophomore year of high school and came to NYU not knowing what to expect from college sports.
“I had just joined two years ago, so I was still getting the hang of my new team and sports in the U.S.,” Moran said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
Despite this, Moran is NYU’s top performer this season, with one first-place finish and two second-place finishes in competition so far. Those performances have helped NYU to a No. 9 ranking in the Atlantic Region. She credits her success to the strong community she’s found on the cross country team and how it’s helped her settle into life at NYU.
“I feel like the freshmen on the team instantly clicked, and it’s just been a positive atmosphere,” Moran said.
While Haley and Moran are dedicated to continuously improving for the team, they remain focused on adjusting to their first year of college and getting a feel for the team and the competition.
“It’s kind of hectic, because we’re constantly going to Palladium, doing a bunch of team activities and trying to do homework,” Haley said.
“The freshmen, we all get together to study so we can try and balance our athletics and schoolwork,” Leah agreed.
The importance of the team’s bond and chemistry is a core philosophy of Cross Country Head Coach Erison Hurtault.
“Everyone on the women’s team really has a good mentality,” Hurtault said. “Which is great to see. One person with the wrong mentality or attitude can really take away from the group.”
As a former collegiate athlete, he also understands the pressures and surprises that come with the first year of college.
“The main thing for us is keeping [the first-years] in line, making sure they’re taken care of, they’re healthy, making sure they know that we’re here for them,” he said. “And helping them learn this new environment. Not only from an academic standpoint, but from a competitive standpoint.”
In his fourth year as head coach and sixth with the team, Hurtault knows better than to try and make early-season predictions.
“It’s always very difficult to tell,” he said. “And one of the main reasons is that college, you have a whole new set of stresses. Every week is going to be new. They’re going to be racing at different distances over the coming weeks. So, you know, they’re going to have a lot of new challenges.”
But while the season is still in its nascent stages, Hurtault does have complete confidence in Haley and Moran’s work ethic and dedication.
“It’s not typical to see a freshman come out and beat people who’ve qualified for nationals and so on,” Hurtault said. “But it’s still early in the season. It’s a good sign, seeing them respond to a competition so well. They’re not afraid. They feel like they can handle it. They can take a good challenge every week.”
You can catch Haley, Moran and the rest of the team back in action on Oct. 5 at the Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, print edition. Email Bin Cho at [email protected]