Football has the Super Bowl, baseball the World Series, sailing the America's Cup. To find indoor track's ultimate event for Princeton's men and women, look no further than the Heptagonal Championships, which are being held this weekend at Dartmouth's Leverone Field House in Hanover, N.H.
Nine teams — the eight Ivy League schools plus Navy — compete at Heps, but on the men's side, the Tigers are the team to beat. Princeton is defending back-to-back indoor Heps titles, and is also attempting to add the second leg on its journey to an unprecedented third straight Triple Crown by combining the Heps crowns from cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.
"We have to compete to win," head coach Fred Samara said. "We have every intention to go in there and win."
The Tiger women, although historically powerful — Princeton won indoor Heps in 1998 and was second last year — are not expected to challenge for first place. The Tigers are unable to post competitors in every event.
"We're not the favorites," head coach Peter Farrell said. "We haven't been able to contest all the events and we've had major injuries all year."
The women's team will need strong performances from their key athletes if they are to be competitive at Heps. Among these important participants will be senior high jumper Shawneequa Callier.
"I'm hoping to out-jump my best mark of five [feet], 10 1/2 [inches]," Callier said.
As a captain, Callier must also provide leadership to younger teammates who have not been in as many intense meets.
"[Senior captain Allison Brown and I] have to make sure everyone is really excited and comfortable," Callier said. "We are having a team dinner to remind everyone about the unity and enthusiasm we should feel as a team."
As the women build unity within their own squad, the men prepare for stiff competition from a number of rival teams.
Navy might be the biggest threat to dethrone the Princeton men from their dominant position in Heps track. The Midshipmen defeated the Tigers in a dual meet at Jadwin Gym, 69-67, Jan. 9. Navy's strength came in the 4x400 meter relay and the 400 itself, as the Mids posted meet records in both events.
But the Princeton team that fell just short against Navy was missing many of its top distance runners, so events that usually go the Tigers' way yielded crucial points to their opponents. With a full squad, Princeton's chances against Navy in the larger meet are greatly improved.
Although Navy beat the Tigers during the season, Princeton must not overlook Brown. The Bears were impressive in a variety of events at the New England Championships — their tune-up for Heps — and appear to be especially strong in the 4x400 relay and the triple jump. But event for event, the Tigers have more depth and have posted significantly better times than Brown managed at New Englands.
Penn is also a nemesis for men's track — the Quakers are strong in the 35-lb. weight throw and long jump and are also deep in the pole vault. Still, although Navy, Brown and Penn are legitimate contenders for first place at Heps, Princeton remains the favorite going into the meet.
"We're looking for everyone to step up," Samara said. "We really need a total team effort. If the key guys — John Mack, Scott Denbo, Paul Morrison — perform well, but others don't, we can't win this meet."
Samara also discussed the importance of strategy at Heps, a meet in which qualifying heats are held on Saturday and the point-scoring finals are held on Sunday.
"It's more like a chess game," he said. "We need to get people to qualify for the finals to have a chance to win. We've been preparing all year for this meet, and we have the attitude as a team needed to win."
While the men look to take a giant step toward another Triple Crown, the women have a tougher hill to climb.
"We'll see how it falls," Farrell said. "[Senior captain] Allison Brown is back, and will give us a chance in the 800 and 4x800.
"The classy high jumpers, Shawneequa and [junior] Rebecca [Desman], [senior distance runner] Courtney Ebersole, will all help us out. [Junior] Sharon Jordan has done great in the triple jump, and [sophomore distance runner] Holly Huffman is on the verge of a huge breakthrough."
But Harvard and Brown are expected to compete for the title, leaving the Tigers to fight for a competitive result. The Crimson has already beaten Princeton convincingly this season at H-Y-Ps, by a score of 69-30. The Tigers were missing Allison Brown due to injury in that meet, and her return will provide a boost to Princeton's point total.