“The field was stacked, but coming into I knew that it was going to be easy in terms of having people to run with. In that case, the race was going to be perfect for me,” Stilin said. “I just focused on not getting too worried about how good everyone was — I knew that I could run with them. Surprisingly, I was actually pretty calm going into the race. I think I did a good job of staying very respectful of the field, but at the same time not letting myself fall into being in awe of them.”
Though Stilin had a game plan of running a mixture of 65 and 66 seconds for each 400-meter lap, the pack inevitably pulled him out fast, as he passed the first mile in 4 minutes, 19 seconds.
“The adrenaline helped me to get through the first mile feeling pretty comfortable. Even though I was running quicker than I was supposed to, it didn’t feel all that fast,” Stilin said. “Over the course of the race I just shut my mind off and rolled with it.“
Continuing to be in the zone over the next mile and a half, Stilin maintained his position in the middle of the pack, keeping himself on personal and school record-setting pace. Yet, coming into the final stages of the race, Stilin’s lactic acid-infused body began to pay for his quick early pace.
With the school record of 13:40.62 set by teammate Donn Cabral last year within reach, Stilin willed himself to pick up his knees and drive through the last 600m of the race. Putting all he had into the last stretch, Stilin stopped the clock at 13:38.36, adding a new Princeton record to complement his 3000m mark from indoors.
“I don’t even really remember the last three or four laps, I was just in oxygen debt pretty bad,” Stilin said. “I looked at the clock with 600 to go and saw what I needed to run to get the school record, and I just focused from there. I could’ve sworn I wasn’t going to get it coming down the last 100 [meters] — I just felt like I was going so slowly, but somehow I came out on top.”
While the big meets in California are renowned record-setting machines, the Tigers’ competitive fires burned just as brightly back home in Princeton at the Larry Ellis Invitational. Running in beautiful conditions that nearly rivaled California’s, junior Greta Feldman ran a huge 1500m race to light up the night on Friday.
Running in a pack stacked with top collegians as well as some professional athletes, Feldman got off the line well and bided her time, patiently waiting for the right time to make a move. At 800 meters, the pack began to thin as the pace took its toll. Taking advantage of the opening, Feldman worked her way up before unleashing her kick over the final 300 meters. Closing hard, Feldman took second place in a new personal best of 4:18.86, finishing only behind professional Melissa Salerno. Close to the school record of 4:17.15, Feldman’s time vaulted her into the number two all-time Princeton spot.
“All year, my coach and I have been talking about how going under 4:20 was a possibility, and we’ve just been talking and talking about it, and to finally go under it is just a great experience,” Feldman said. “In the past few weeks we’ve been doing a lot of speedwork, so I think it was a pleasant surprise, but also indicative of the hard work we’ve been putting in.”
Still, while Feldman — who has 2:06 800m credentials — has always had the speed to close hard, she knows that to keep bringing her time down and honing her racing skills, she has to build her strength.
“I need to work on hanging on. Sticking to people is what I struggle with. I really need to work on the third quarter of the race, and when people move I need to move with them,” Feldman said. “I think I’ve definitely become better at that, and I’ve made more of an effort to do that.”
Feldman’s performance opened the floodgates, as several Tigers hopped on the personal-record train that night and the following day. Following Feldman in the 1500m, sophomore Molly Higgins ran a four-second career best to finish in 4:24.24. Running later Friday night in the 5000m, junior Abby Levene slashed a huge amount of time off her previous best, as she crossed the line in 16:38.78.
Competing in the men’s 5000m, sophomore Chris Bendsten had a massive breakthrough race. Biding his time behind the leaders for the majority of the race, Bendsten quietly moved into the lead with one lap to go and exploded over the next 400 meters, closing in 60 seconds to win in 13:57.51. Shortly after him in fifth place, classmate Alejandro Arroyo Yamin finished in 14:02.08, while senior Brian Leung crossed the line in 14:09.82 — personal bests for both of them.
Meanwhile, in the sprints and in the field, the Tigers competed exceedingly well. Sophomore Tom Hopkins ran a personal best of 21.29 seconds in the 200m, while freshman Adam Bragg also reached a new height in the pole vault, clearing 16 feet, 7.25 inches.
On the women’s side, junior Lauren Tauscher vaulted the highest she ever has, going cleanly over 12 feet, 7.5 inches to win the event, while freshman Cecilia Barowski improved to 55.35 seconds in the 400m.
For the Princeton athletes, the excitement from all of the top performances is contagious.
“I think the team is as unified as it’s ever been right now. I’ve never seen the Princeton Tigers as focused as they have been. We are absolutely formidable right now,” Stilin said.
“The NCAA is looking at the Princeton Tigers and has respect for what we’ve managed to accomplish so far,” Stilin added. “I think that when we step on the track people are scared of us — people know that we’re going to bring it.”
As the men and women head into the prestigious Penn Relays this weekend, and the Ivy League championships following the next week, it is a perfect time for the puzzle pieces to start fitting together.
“I think we’re definitely picking up momentum, and I really think it’s all about having that momentum going into it,” Feldman said. “We had a bit of a rough winter, but I do feel that we’ve completely turned a corner. I think we’re ready to compete with just about any team in the Ivy League right now.”
Still, Feldman and the rest of the team know that all that matters is the present, and what they will bring to the track when it matters most. Regardless of confidence or previous best times, all the Tigers know they will need to keep working hard.
“I’m obviously really, really excited, but at the same time I know that at meets like Penn Relays and [Heptagonal Championships], anyone who catches fire is going to do well, and it doesn’t really what marks people have put up earlier in the season,” Feldman said.
“Our coach always says, ‘The person who catches fire, the person who’s the most motivated — they’re going to win the meet,’ ” Feldman added.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/04/24/30748/