Cross Country: Princeton faces 1st big test in South Bend
The men’s and women’s cross country teams will face their first true challenges of the season this weekend. Since their season openers at the Penn State Spiked Shoe Invitational on Sept. 8, the Tigers have been putting in miles to prepare themselves for the rigorous racing ahead. This afternoon, select runners will compete at the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Ind., while the rest of the teams will race at Lehigh’s Paul Short Invitational.
As the end of September and the start of October marks the end of the endurance base-building phase for most teams across the nation, many top-ranked schools will be traveling to Notre Dame to test their early season fitness. Joining the No. 17 Princeton men on the starting line for the top race at 5 p.m. are teams such as No. 10 Florida State, No. 14 Texas A&M and No. 21 New Mexico, among others. The women will face similarly stiff competition, including No. 2 Florida State, No. 19 New Mexico and No. 20 Notre Dame.
“The philosophy has been to keep building endurance through September. Notre Dame is a side detour where we’re trying to bring them down toward speed-oriented stuff,” women’s head coach Peter Farrell said. “Strategically, we ran some fast stuff last week to prepare them for the fast, flat course at Notre Dame.”
Head men’s cross country coach Jason Vigilante shares a similar view. His goal is for runners to get used to competitive races again and to continue to hone their fitness for the season to come.
“One idea that we need to make sure we incorporate — especially in competition like this — is that we need to race well, we need to compete hard, but at the same time we need to view this as a stepping-stone to getting better at the Heps, regional and national meets,” Vigilante said. “That’s what this is for. This level of competition is to help us later in the year; it’s not the be-all, end-all of our season by any means.”
While Notre Dame mainly serves to segue into the more meaningful meets of October and November, its outcome is still important. Farrell views it as an opportunity to see how his women stack up against the rest of the nation and hopefully gain some reputation points for the at-large selection process of the NCAA Championship at the end of the fall.
“The reason why you go to Notre Dame is because you’re looking to, as I used to say, hunt bear in late September,” Farrell said. “You try to find meets where teams from other regions come that you can hopefully catch at this point and knock off. That’s why I’m interested in this race, because it’s fast and plays toward our strong suit, and we’ve done things to prepare ourselves for it.”
The men and women say their training has gone well, since they arrived on campus for preseason. As they did last year, many of the runners spent time out at altitude in Park City, Utah, over the summer to build a strong aerobic base. Working even harder in each other’s company back at school, the men and women have built confidence to start the year.
“We work hard, and we’ve done some great tempo runs. We’ve done things that I believe are exceptional, and I think the team is very happy with where we are as a group as well,” Vigilante said. “Notre Dame is another opportunity for us to practice pulling together. We’re all in this together, and as we go through the season it’s going to help us work on becoming the Heps champion, the regional champion and placing as high as we can at the national meet.”
While both the men and women are highly ranked teams, with the men at No. 17 and the women just outside the top 30, both squads lost important leaders from last year. With the graduation of last year’s seniors, such as Donn Cabral ’12, Brian Leung ’12, Joe Stilin ’12 and Alex Banfich ’12, Vigilante and Farrell are counting on younger runners and new captains to step up and lead the team.
“We’ve always been blessed with good leadership here at Princeton. [Senior co-captains] Greta Feldman and Alexis Mikaelian have been great role models for the kids to follow,” Farrell said. “Replacing Alex is hard, but certainly Greta has stepped up. Her workouts indicate that she’s ready to roll.”
Leadership and strong performances have also come from members other than the team captains. Vigilante said he is impressed by the quiet and consistent work that junior Tyler Udland is putting in every day at practice. Farrell’s pleasant surprise is sophomore Emily de la Bruyere, who led the women at Penn State. After bouncing back from a hard freshman year in which she faced mononucleosis and stress fractures, she is working out well and looking strong.
“The important thing for us to remember is that the senior class from last year did a phenomenal job in raising the level of the program,” Vigilante said. “But at one point the seniors were freshmen, they were sophomores and they were juniors, and they were not always contributors to this outstanding Princeton program. Guys like Trevor Van Ackeren [’12] and Joe Stilin grew into that position, and I expect the same thing of our sophomores and juniors, where they continue to grow into excellent leaders and ambassadors for our school.”