Cross Country: Cabral tops field, but No. 9 Princeton upset
Suffering their first fluke day of the season, the favored No. 9 Tigers placed third in their region behind No. 23 Georgetown and No. 13 Villanova. When races are infrequent and everything depends on the runner’s performance on that given day, the Tigers can only be thankful this happened when it mattered least. While only the top two places receive an automatic berth to the national championship round, Princeton was granted an at-large bid Sunday night based on its strong and consistent performances this entire season.
“We had an off day and were surprised by Georgetown and Villanova,” Cabral said. “Hopefully this will get us ready to bring our A game to nationals. If we can put five, six or seven perfect races together, there’s no limit to our potential this season, so hopefully today was a nice little spark for us to stay motivated going into nationals, our final race of the season.”
Off day or not, nothing stopped Cabral from cruising to his first individual regional cross-country title. Starting out very conservatively and under control, Cabral passed through the five-kilometer halfway point in 33rd place and more than 20 seconds off the lead. Switching gears, he soon erased the gap, finishing the final five kilometers more than 40 seconds faster than the first five to win comfortably in 30 minutes, 30.3 seconds. Second finisher Ryan Sheridan of Villanova came in at 30:38.6, eight seconds behind.
“I was happy with my performance,” Cabral said. “I started off slow, threw in a big move with two miles to go and held that pace until the finish. This race was a good sign for me going into nationals.”
Also turning in a very solid performance, sophomore Chris Bendtsen led the rest of the Tigers, coming in 12th overall in 30:51.8.
While Cabral and the Princeton men will advance to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 21, the women’s cross country team’s journey ended at the regional level. After struggling all season to regain the championship form of the past few years, the Tigers placed fifth behind No. 2 Villanova, No. 7 Georgetown, No. 13 West Virginia and No. 22 Penn State. Regardless, it was a relatively good showing all around for Princeton, as all five scorers placed in the top 40.
Running right with the lead runners, senior captain Alex Banfich spearheaded the Princeton squad, taking fourth place in 21:37.7. The course was supposed to be six kilometers, but in an unusual gaffe, the pace car took a wrong turn during the race and led the women on a detour, causing them to run approximately 400 extra meters. Despite the fumble, Banfich stuck with the top runners to the end, finishing just five seconds off the winning time of 21:32.7 by Villanova’s Sheila Reid, the defending NCAA champion. Banfich’s finishing place gave her an automatic individual ticket to the national race on Nov. 21, where she will be joined by senior Alexis Mikaelian.
The Tigers have a week to rest their legs and get their competitive fires burning before they toe the line in Terre Haute, Ind., for the season finale. One of the greatest Princeton squads yet, the men look to show that they truly deserve to be a top NCAA program.
“I’m really excited to get out to nationals,” Cabral said. “After a narrow victory at Heps and a disappointing loss this weekend at Regionals, we’re not only racing to chase an opportunity for a high finish, we’re racing to prove to ourselves and to the nation that Princeton has one of the best teams out there.”
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