At last Saturday’s Ivy League cross country championships, the Princeton men had something to prove. The Tigers were two-time defending champions, but this year they were not the favorites. No. 10 Columbia was the team to beat, and many picked the fit and fast Lions to decisively hand the Tigers only their second loss in seven years.
But when the gun went off for the 8K championship race at West Windsor Fields, it was all business for the Tigers, and they did not lose on their home course. Dominating the race from the start, the men had their best day of the season, as they easily ran away with the conference crown.
“We wanted to keep it businesslike — stay calm and stay cool,” junior cocaptain Chris Bendtsen said. “We didn’t want to get emotionally invested or really psyched up, and with a meet like Heps it’s really easy to do that. We wanted to be relaxed going in.”
In sharp contrast to last year’s slow and slippery opening two miles, this year's pace was hot from the gun. Harvard’s Maksim Korolev, one of the favorites for the individual title, along with teammate James Leakos, led the field through the first loop of the course. The team battle was clear from the get-go, as both Princeton and Columbia were packed up in the front group.
“Our plan as a team was just to get to the front,” Bendtsen said. “We wanted to stay in that lead pack and relax. We didn’t want to lead; we just followed the two Harvard guys and waited.”
The front pack began to splinter midway through the race, as the top runners continued to surge. Driving over the rolling, grassy hills, juniors Alejandro Arroyo Yamin, Bendtsen, Jonathan Vitez and Tyler Udland hung with the Harvard runners, a handful of Lions and a few other top individuals, such as Will Geohegan of Dartmouth.
Climbing the final hill before the home straightaway, Bendtsen turned it on and began to separate himself from the field. Entering the chute leading to the finish line, Bendtsen erased all chances of being caught, as he unleashed a blistering kick and took his first individual Heps title in a time of 23 minutes, 41.8 seconds. Finishing hard behind Bendtsen, Arroyo Yamin kicked past Columbia’s Leighton Spencer in the final 100 meters and crossed the line in 23:48.1, giving Princeton a powerful 1-2 punch.
Udland pushed hard in the latter half of the race to come in fourth in 23:51.3. Vitez had one of the best races of his career, finishing under 24 minutes for the first time, crossing the line in 23:57.8 for seventh place. Sophomore Eddie Owens rounded out the scoring in 12th place at 24:06.6, completing the Tigers’ tight one-through-five spread of 24.8-seconds and securing the Ivy League team title.
“Personally for me, I was just trying to score as few points as possible,” Bendtsen said. “Getting that one point is huge, and especially with Alejandro right behind me, Tyler in fourth and Boo [Vitez] in seventh ... it was one of Princeton’s best finishes ever. We’re just really happy about that.”
Handily beating Columbia 26-58, Princeton posted the lowest winning score since the 1997 Tigers won Heps with 25 points.
“It’s three in a row. The history is important to us, and it’s exciting — we’re glad to keep the streak alive,” Bendtsen said. “We don’t want to lose Heps; we come out and we’re going to bring it. Columbia is ranked 10th in the country — they’re a great team. Just to beat them is an accomplishment in itself. To win Heps is really special to us; it’s not like every other meet.”
If the men had not exceeded expectations, then the women certainly did. Running in one of the most competitive races in Ivy League history, the women captured second place behind No. 7 Cornell. With 91 points, the Tigers edged out Brown and Harvard, who tied for third with 93 points, ahead of No. 22 Yale in fifth place. Cornell won with 31 points.
“Going into the meet, we knew it was going to be hard to even get on the podium,” senior cocaptain Greta Feldman said. “Afterward we didn’t immediately know what the results were, and when we found out we were pretty surprised to hear that we got second. Obviously the goal was to get first, but even second was really exciting. A lot of people stepped it up for us.”
Cornell took control of the race from the start, as Big Red’s Katie Kellner charged out into the front and set up a lead that she would never relinquish. In the absence of Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino, who sat out the race with an injury, Kellner took the individual title unchallenged, finishing the 6K course in 20:28.5. Packing up behind her, two other Cornell runners finished in second and third to give Cornell a 1-2-3 finish, the first time that has happened since Princeton swept the top five spots in 2009.
Running well together for most of the race, the Princeton women fought hard from the gun. Leading the Tigers, Feldman finished in eighth place in 20:47.8. Not far behind her, senior Abby Levene had a great day, as she moved up through the field to place 12th in 20:55.5. Sophomore Jackie Nicholas finished just off her shoulder in 20:56.5, while sophomore Emily De La Bruyere and senior Mel Newbery rounded out the Tigers’ top five.
“Abby [Levene] was definitely our biggest performer at that meet. At one point she was right next to me and then right in front of me, and that helped get me into a rhythm,” Feldman said. “There was a point when there were three or four of us running together in the race, and I think that really helped us out a lot.”
With the Ivy League meet decided, both the men and women will look to build upon their success and focus on the NCAA Championship meet. With two solid weeks of training before the NCAA Regionals at Penn State on Nov. 9, the Tigers will have the chance to hone their fitness and get sharp for the important races to come.
“A lot of our sport is about momentum. Our top six and probably more PR’d at Heps — you can’t really get any better than that,” Bendtsen said. “We’re happy; we’re excited; we have momentum — and in cross country that’s what it’s all about. We know that the toughest challenges are still ahead, but we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in, and that’s exciting.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/31/31644/