Cross Country: Competitive Heps features nationally ranked Ivy League teams
Drenching sleet and snow, ankle-deep slush, subfreezing temperatures and gusting winds made the 2011 Heptagonal Cross Country Championships one of the most challenging races in Ivy League history. This year’s weather promises to be more forgiving, forecasting a dry Saturday with a temperature in the upper 60s. Nevertheless, the battle for the team title will be fiercer and more charged than the league has seen in recent years.
“Every coach, every athlete in the Ivy League that I’ve ever talked to has talked about how unbelievable the atmosphere at Heps is. Any big place seems so small, everyone’s following what’s going on, alums come back to watch — it’s really an electric atmosphere,” senior women’s cocaptain Greta Feldman said. “Every team in the Ivy League puts an emphasis on this meet, and you never know who’s going to step up and have a good day. It can be a surprise.”
Following the meet’s infamous West Windsor Fields debut, this will be the second year in a row that Heps is being held in Princeton rather than at its historic site of Van Cortlandt Park in New York. Having the opportunity to race on and defend their home turf will give an added dynamic to the championship race for the Tigers.
“At least for me, the difficulty in cross country is that you’re not always familiar with the course and don’t always have your bearing on where you are,” Feldman said. “That’s going to be an asset for us on our course, as we’ve been training on it for months. We know every blade of grass on that course and we’ll have a great home crowd.”
The men’s race is shaping up to be a dogfight between No. 23 Princeton and No. 10 Columbia. After their impressive fifth-place showing at the Wisconsin Invitational, the Lions are looking fit and strong. Still, the Tigers have won the past two titles and five of the last six. Led by juniors Alejandro Arroyo Yamin, Tyler Udland and Chris Bendtsen, the men are determined to stay controlled and run the best races that they can to retain their title.
“Honestly, we need to focus on ourselves. Anytime you put your emphasis on your competitors, you get distracted from what’s really important — and that’s to find it within yourself to have the best race you can,” men’s head coach Jason Vigilante said. “We need to focus on our team effort, we need to focus on that when we leave the course on Saturday. We’ve given it our all for Princeton and we can hold our heads high.”
On the women’s side, the talent in the Ivy League has exploded in recent years. Defending champion Cornell is tied for seventh in the nation this year. No. 22 Yale is also formidable, while both Columbia and Princeton were ranked in the top 30. The 2011 Heps individual champion, Abbey D’Agostino of Dartmouth, is also a favorite for the NCAA title this year after placing third nationally last year.
“This year it’s definitely more competitive than I can ever remember it. In some ways, I think it’s funny that this meet is going to be more competitive than the regional meet,” Feldman said. “For me, it’s exciting to have a lot of teams right there. No one is going to be able to run away with it, it’s going to be a battle.”
Coming back from the large meets earlier in the season at Notre Dame and Wisconsin, the men and women are prepared for fast and competitive racing.
“I have always felt that this is fun — this is cross country, it’s good competition. There’s no danger here, we’re not putting our lives at stake — we can do this,” Vigilante said. “Ultimately what we are doing is pretty easy stuff and we’ve got to keep it in perspective and make sure that we don’t make a bigger deal of what we’re trying to do than we need to. I’m always of the mindset that if we keep it simple, show up and do what we’re supposed to do, then everything works out.”
Taking place on the West Windsor Fields on the far side of Lake Carnegie, the women’s race starts at 11 a.m., with the men following at noon.
Between the end of midterms and then, the runners will try to sleep, get excited and stay composed.
“Our number one priority ought to be having the mindset where we’re calm under stress,” Vigilante said. “We should get the most out of our fitness and challenge ourselves at the right times in the competition. That simply comes down to composure, having a positive mindset and, in the end, choosing to try to represent our school as well as we can. Anything more than that is a distraction.”
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