Track: Returning to full strength, Princeton off to good start
As the indoor track season rolls into February, the Tigers are starting to look fit and dangerous. Coming back from several weeks of training free from competitions, the men’s and women’s track teams fired back into action at the end of winter break and have been racing off the cobwebs throughout January.
Adding promising new talent to the men’s sprinting corps, freshman football players John Hill and Dre Nelson have been contributing in a big way in the 60m dash. At the Princeton-Navy meet on Jan. 6, Hill, Nelson and sophomore Tumi Akinlawon placed 1-2-3 as Hill bolted to a personal best of 6.91 seconds. Proving to be consistent in the 60m, Hill and Nelson again went 1-2 at the Wesley A. Brown Invitational at Navy on Jan. 26.
In the longer sprints, multi-talented junior co-captain Tom Hopkins is turning in top times. Hopkins set an indoor personal best of 47.58 in the 400m, coming in second at the Penn State Sykes and Sabock Cup this past weekend.
“I’m terrible at indoors. I was beaten by a guy who was like 5’6’’ — he can navigate the turns; I just can’t,” Hopkins said. “But we have to do what we got to do to achieve our final goals and just keep on building. So far it’s going well.”
On the women’s side, in the middle distances and sprints, junior Kristen Smoot has been having a great start to the season, winning the 800m at the NYRR College Night at the Armory II on Jan. 26. Senior Melissa Zajdel was right behind in 2:11.70. At the Sykes and Sabock Cup, Smoot set a personal best in the 600m, crossing the line in 1:33.04 for third.
Making a highly anticipated return for the Tigers, former Heps champion senior Austin Hollimon opened up his season at the Sykes and Sabock Cup, running one minute, 21.6 seconds to place seventh in the 600m. Hollimon took last winter and spring off to train for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 400m hurdles and posted what would have been Ivy League record times in the process.
“He brings a certain energy to the team. A lot of what he says is really motivational; he’s just able to come up with those few right words,” Hopkins said. “He took all that time to train last year and is really able to impart some tips and advice to the rest of the team.”
Princeton is also well prepared in the field. Freshman weight thrower Julia Ratcliffe set the Ivy League record again at the Princeton Quad meet, hurling the weight 19.69 meters to top her previous mark of 19.58. Perennial Heps champion Tory Worthen has also returned to competition, posting wins at every meet this past month.
In the men’s field events, All-America junior Damon McLean bounded to a field house record 51 feet, 0.25 inches in the triple jump at the Wesley A. Brown Invitational. McLean also won the long jump. Junior Omar Jarrett won the high jump in a personal record of 2.07 meters at the Navy dual meet and then added victories at both the first Armory meet and the Wesley A. Brown Invitational.
Even with minimal sharpening workouts, the distance runners have already shown impressive speed.
“We’re still definitely doing a lot of volume and not really a ton of sharpening stuff. I’ve found it pretty surprising to run fast times for myself early on,” senior Michael Franklin said. “I think it speaks to the fitness that we’ve accumulated from our endurance work and shows that it really doesn’t take a whole lot to bring out the sharpness on top of that.”
In the 3,000m at the Armory on Jan. 12, Princeton went one through five, as Franklin had a breakthrough race, crossing the line in a hot 8:07.88, the top performance in the country at that time. Since then, Franklin has crushed his mile personal best and brought down his 3k best, running 8:04.59 at the Armory Collegiate meet last weekend to narrowly place second.
“It definitely gives me a boost. I feel like I have a lot more to go still. I have several months left in my senior year to get into good shape,” Franklin said. “You derive confidence from your workouts for your races, and then you work out better when you race well. It’s a connected cycle, and things have been going great.“
Scorching the distances at the Sykes and Sabock Cup, the women’s squad also proved that the long finals period has not left it stale. Setting a personal best in the 5,000m, sophomore Jackie Nicholas dominated the field as she won in 16:33.39, more than 23 seconds faster than senior Abby Levene, who placed second.
Meanwhile in the 800m, senior co-captain and All-America Greta Feldman placed second in 2:08.78, and fellow senior Alexis Mikaelian was third with a personal best of 2:09.79. Earlier in the season at the Princeton Quad meet with St. John’s, St. Joseph’s and Rutgers, sophomore Emily De La Bruyere lit up the 3k, winning in 9:33.26. Feldman also heads the mile crew, having run 4:45.44 this season. Mikaelian, De La Bruyere and senior Mel Newbery are not far behind with season bests of 4:49.30, 4:51.04 and 4:51.45, respectively.
After a fall that saw many of Princeton’s milers and half-milers sidelined with injury, the men are back on the track and turning out solid performances.
In all of the meets this past month, junior Michael Williams and sophomore Bradley Paternostro have been running consistently in the low 1:50s for the 800m. At the Sykes and Sabock Cup, Mark Amirault ’11 won the race in 4:03.40 for Virginia. Also at that meet, All-America senior and sub-four-minute-miler Peter Callahan and senior Nathan Mathabane are finally racing on the track after several long seasons of injury.
“The old Coach Samara saying is that you just have to put the hay in the barn, and once you race, it’s all there. There’s nothing more you can do,” Hopkins said. “That’s what we’re doing now and until Heps — just putting the hay in the barn.”
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