Women’s cross country put up a strong showing this past weekend at the Ivy League Heptagonal (HEPS) Championships in Van Cortlandt Park, finishing fourth. Amassing 90 points across the top five finishers, any of the five scoring Tigers would have needed to surpass just one other runner in the field to finish ahead of second-place finisher Harvard and third-place finisher UPenn, which both accumulated 89 points.
The Tigers had some notable individual performances, with junior Melia Chittenden leading the team. She improved upon her eighth-place finish from last year to finish sixth overall. Chittenden maintained a top-10 position for the majority of the race and, running strong on the final stretch, clocked in 21:16.6 for 6k-race, 31 seconds behind the first-place finisher from Yale.
“I was happy with my finish which was an improvement from how I did last year,” said Chittenden. “We were disappointed to be so close [to] second place as a team [but we] had some amazing performances by individuals which is indicative of our team getting back to full strength.”
Looking to the future, Chittenden and the team are “excited for another chance to race at regionals next week, and HEPS just added more fuel to the fire.”
Following close behind, sophomore Page Lester was Princeton’s second finisher and placed 11th overall. After battling an injury for the majority of the season, Lester made her season debut at the Princeton Invitational only three weeks ago. At the Ivy League Championships, Lester started out modestly but made her way up to the front of the pack as the race progressed. She crossed the finish line in 21:32.0, earning second-team All Ivy League honors for her performance.
“From the start I could see my teammates up ahead and that gave me motivation to pick up [the pace],” said Lester. “I also got a ton of energy and motivation from the fans. It was so special that so many members of the track team came out to support. Each runner gave it her very best effort, and we were so close to second, so there were a lot of positives to take away from the day. Mostly, I am so thankful that I get to be back out there with my teammates and represent Princeton.”
Placing third for the Tigers, junior Sophie Cantine improved upon her 27th-place finish from last year to come in 17th overall with a time of 21:45.6. Pushing the pace from the gun, Cantine maintained a strong cadence throughout the hilly course. Cantine reflects on her performance: “Individually, the race was really good. It was my fastest time on that course and my highest HEPS finish so far. The course was very challenging, but our training has been centered on preparing for the course’s many hills, which helped me stay confident throughout the race.”
Rounding out the top six was a tight pack comprised of sophomore Gillian Wagner in 22:03.2, followed closely by first-year Maggie Liebich and Abby Loveys in 22:04.2 and 22:05.6, respectively. Other competitors for Princeton included senior Madeleine Sumner, junior Katherine Leggat-Barr, sophomore India Weir, and senior Sierra Castaneda. Impressively, Liebich and Loveys were the second and third-fastest first-year finishers in the meet. Furthermore, the first and fifth-place finishers for Princeton were separated by only 48 seconds — the lowest of any team competing.
Looking towards the remainder of the season, the Tigers will now be gearing up for the NCAA Regional Championships, taking place on Nov. 15 at Lehigh University, where they will face competition from all across the mid-Atlantic region. They are hoping to match their top-two finish from last year in order to punch their ticket to the National Championships.
“Team-wise, it is disappointing that we were so close to placing second, but I feel the result can definitely be used as fuel going into regionals in two weeks,” says Cantine. “Our team has been building throughout the season and I feel like we are definitely capable of qualifying for nationals again.”