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Princeton University men's cross country, Princeton, NJ, October 14, 2017.

Men’s cross country is running under the radar. Currently, the team stands right on the edge of breaking into the NCAA Top 30 rankings. But the team has its eyes set even higher, aiming for an Ivy League title, a first-place finish in the Mid-Atlantic NCAA Regional Championship, and a top 15 NCAA finish overall. 

The Tigers are running unnoticed for a reason: the team has deliberately raced its last two meets utilizing pack running, using the meets as opportunities for the team to gain experience running together. “That’s what we want to do when it’s time for the conference meet,” said junior Conor Lundy. At the Spiked Shoe Invitational at Penn State, the team ran the course as a pack, with the top seven finishing within a one-second spread. 

More recently, at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, the team finished in first, running on the course where the NCAA Championships will be held this November. Once again, the team pack-ran, with the top five finishing within a one-second spread. “We felt really smooth all together and felt really comfortable running as a pack,” Lundy said. “It was great to get out there to run as a team for the first time … For some guys, it was more of an all-out effort, and for others, it was more of a tempo or workout. We fed off of each other, moving up slowly. We really built up our confidence going into the Princeton Invite.” 

The team has dominated the Ivy League for three seasons straight, with an Ivy League triple crown in outdoor cross country and indoor and outdoor track. However, the team graduated several key runners in 2018, including two of its top five runners from the 2017 Heptagonal Championships: Noah Kauppila and Garrett O’Toole, who finished first and fourth, respectively.

Fortunately, the team is looking fast and fit with new runners stepping up. First-year Fahd Nasser, sophomore Matt Grossman, and junior Perrin Hagge have been performing diligently in workouts; senior Jeremy Spiezio did not compete in the 2017 cross country season, but he will be crucial to the team’s success. The team returns All-American Lundy and juniors Gannon Willcutts and Viraj Deokar as Ivy League finishers from last season. 

In practice, the team has been gearing up for its biggest races of the season. 

“Our biggest races are not for another five weeks or so. We’ve been doing a lot of long workouts and tempos, as opposed to maybe some shorter, faster stuff. Now we’re transitioning to intervals and faster stuff,”  Lundy explained. “We’re in that key part of the season where we make that transition and start really feeling fit.” 

This Friday, the team will host the Princeton Invitational; two weeks later, it will host the Ivy Heps. The home cross country course at West Windsor Fields has been under construction but will be ready for competition on Friday. While the team has not practiced on the course yet this season, it looks forward to using it soon. “We’re going to go into it like every other team in the Ivy League,” said Lundy. “I’m excited to get back out there and I’m excited that the University has made it so we can run on it. It’s a great course to have.” 

Meanwhile, Lundy maintains optimistic about the future of the team’s season. “We’ll be ready to surprise some teams,” he said with a smile.