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This article is part of our 2015 Fall Preview

Men’s cross country poised to continue Ivy dominance

Fall 2015 looks to be yet another successful season for Princeton’s male distance runners. In their first race, the Tigers topped Harvard and Yale by a convincing margin.

The runners’ accomplishments during the 2014-15 season earned them a place alongside renowned thoroughbred American Pharaoh as “triple crown” winners — who inspired whom to athletic greatness remains up for debate — as the Tigers took first place in fall, winter and spring conference championships. Last year’s Heptagonal Championships sweep marks their second under head coach Jason Vigilante and the program’s third since 2011.

A pair of scorers from last spring’s Heps 5K race have raced their last for the Orange and Black. Mike Mazzaccaro ’15 and Sam Pons ’15, second- and fifth-place finishers respectively, made impacts that will not be trivial to repeat. Pons garnered further accolades at the national level. Placing ninth in the 10K NCAA Championship, the California native capped off his impressive four years with a second-team All-America performance. In addition, he found the podium in last fall’s Heps final, placing third among Ancient Eight runners.

Fortunately for the returning Tigers, Princeton maintains a core of strong athletes while adding a measure of promising talent.

Runners from across all four classes have impressed in this early season. Senior Michael Sublette, runner-up in last fall’s Ivy League 8K final, placed third in the season-opening Harvard-Yale-Princeton contest. His final year should see him lead the Princeton pack with a series of strong performances.

Junior William Bertrand and sophomore Wolfgang Beck flanked their senior leader with second- and fourth-place finishes in the year’s first race.

A couple of Princeton’s rookies got in on the action, in addition. With a time of 25:13, freshman Jeremy Spiezio of Greenwich, N.Y. took ninth place in his first collegiate race. His classmate Steven Sum of Saratoga, Calif., finished 13thamong Big Three runners.

Oct. 3 marks the next chance to see the Tigers on home turf at the Princeton Interregional Meet. While the sport is not particularly conducive to spectatorship, support in a race’s opening and closing moments makes no small difference.

In alumni news, all-time Princeton great Donn Cabral ’12 recently placed 10thin the IAAF World Championship Steeplechase. The 3000-meter obstacle race, run on Aug. 22 in the famous Bejing National Stadium, saw Cabral leading the pack through the halfway mark. With a final time of 8:24.94, the former Tiger was the third American to finish. Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympic Games will give Cabral, who took eighth-place in the 2012 games, the opportunity to shine once again on the world stage.

Women distance runners look to take next step in Ivy League

Princeton’s female cross country runners cannot lay claim to as much recent success as their male counterparts. However, the squad has consistently applied pressure to the Ivy League top finishers. The Tigers took second in last fall’s Heptagonal Championships, marking the third time in four years that the Tigers took home silver or bronze.

An upsetting second-place finish came for Princeton in their season-opening race against Harvard and Yale. According to senior Emily de la Bruyere, this result failed to live up to the expectations the Tigers set for themselves.

“We should not have lost to Harvard by any number of points, least of all one,” the senior explained. “We dropped the ball in a couple of ways. I personally dropped the ball. It didn’t bode well for our season, but I don’t think it’s going to happen again.”

De la Bruyere along with senior Kathryn Fleur will lead the way for Princeton with the senior leadership necessary to any fruitful season. Fleur took 10th place in the season opener and showed she has the potential to race with the Ivy League best with her fifth-place finish in last spring’s Heps 5K final.

As with the men, the Princeton women saw strong early performances from all classes. Junior Lizzie Bird earned a convincing first-place finish — the runner-up followed by seven seconds — against Harvard and Yale. Sophomore Natalie Rathjen just outpaced Fleur to take ninth place.

First-year runner Bridgie Leach took 12th in an impressive inaugural performance. According to de la Bruyere, “[Leach] did phenomenally well for her first collegiate cross country race, which is not easy. It’s a big change from high school training to college training.”

Twelve freshmen joined the Princeton ranks this season.

“Off the cross country course, they’re a really tight group with a ton of personality. They introduced themselves perfectly into the team,” said de la Bruyere. “They should definitely be contributing members of the team. And not only now are they going to contribute, but as a class they have a fantastic foundation for the next four years.”

In order to realize the success this talented squad is capable of, Princeton has identified the strategy of pack running as the means for achieving the goal of a Heps Championship and strong national performance.

As de la Bruyere explained, “This year is going to be about team running and pack running, which is fundamentally what cross country is as a sport. We haven’t had the kind of team that can focus on those things in the past few years. But right now we have a team that’s very strong top three, four and five. So we’re going to be training together and racing together in a way that we can use that critical mass.”

The Princeton Invitational on Oct. 17 will give the Tigers a chance to improve their individual and team performance in front of a home crowd.

“In terms of team performance, in the past few weeks we’ve seen phenomenal strides,” said de la Bruyere. “And all signs indicate that those are going to continue for the next three months.”

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