Iona cross country continues domination in MAAC, finishes 10th at NCAA


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Graduate Student Jack O’Leary received the United States Track and Field Coaches and Cross Country Coaches Association Fred Tootell Award for his performances this season. This is given to the best male runner in the northeast.

Matthew Chaves, Sports Editor

The Iona College men’s and women’s cross country teams have defended their titles in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. It’s the 30th-straight title for men’s cross country and fifth for women’s. 

In the men’s individual section, Iona took eight of the top 10 spots, led by graduate student Jack O’Leary with a time of 24:28.10. He was followed by junior Jamie Dee and graduate student Ehab El-Sandali. The two finished just behind O’Leary, only by milliseconds. Dee clocked in at 24:28.14 while El-Sandali clocked in at 24:28.19. 

On the women’s side of things, Iona took four of the top 10 spots, led by graduate student Gemma Nuttall’s 21:43.93. She was followed by graduate student Kaitlyn Ohrtman with a 21:48.93 and freshman Holly Smith with a 21:55.24. 

Head coach Joe Pienta spoke with in an interview regarding the upcoming cross country schedule in the NCAA. COVID-19 testing was successful with all negatives coming back from the tests, Pienta said. 

Pienta is glad his team hasn’t lost focus despite the lack of action in the past year. 

“I probably saw [the team] four times since last October,” Pienta said via video call. “I was busy myself and wasn’t at practice a whole lot when we started February 1, but I think it’s a credit to them, all our student-athletes on the team and all our runners that they were just able to grind and get the job done.” 

The challenges presented to Pienta were unlike any other this year. Despite the rocky road traveled by the cross country team, Pienta and the runners were able to trudge through to make the NCAAs once again. 

Of the seven runners who went to Oklahoma to compete in the NCAA championship, two finished in the top 30 in 10k. O’Leary finished with a time of 30:29.2 and El-Sandali finished with a time of 30:34.9. 

Nuttall was the sole representative for the Gaels’ women’s team, finishing 198th out of 253, with a time of 22:26 in the 6k. It was the first ever NCAA Division 1 cross country event for the graduate student. 

The Gaels now start their outdoor track and field season, with their next event being the Raleigh Relays on Thursday.