The past two weeks have been exhilarating for Princeton’s track and field program. Yet with the Ivy League and NCAA Championships still on the horizon, the Tigers are just getting started.
After two seasons affected by COVID-induced cancellations, Princeton has come into the 2022 indoor track season hot off the blocks. The men’s team quickly climbed to No. 7 in the country, and now sits at No. 17. The women, meanwhile, are competing for a top spot in the Ivy League.
Earlier this month, junior pole vaulter Sondre Guttormsen launched himself through the air, twirled over a 5.75 meter high bar, and landed gracefully on his back to soar over the Ivy League pole vaulting record. Christian Brown, a senior, sped through the 60 meter hurdles in an astonishing 7.76 seconds for another Ivy League best. Brown described the scene around the track after breaking the record in a recent interview with The Daily Princetonian.
“I didn't even see the time. I was just looking around to see coaches throwing their hands up,” Brown said. “My head coach was at the shot put pit hugging the shot putter as he’s getting ready to put. You just see everyone get really happy… when people win, everybody wins.”
The track and field team’s distance runners have broken records in recent weeks, too. Senior distance runner Sam Ellis ran a 3:56.87 mile to break the Ivy league record.
The women’s distance medley relay (DMR) team, composed of runners from all four of Princeton’s undergraduate classes (first-year Adelaide Asante, sophomore Tsion Yared, junior Maggie Hock and senior Caroline Timm) topped the school record in their event with an impressive time of 11:11.
The recent record-breaking is especially impressive when one considers that the Tigers did not have complete seasons the past two years. Senior shot putter C.J. Licata said that the team’s consistency and work ethic over that period is a huge reason for the team’s success this year.
“Myself and my teammates, whatever the event group, we literally went full throttle the entire time over COVID,” Licata told the ‘Prince.’ “That’s all we did. No distractions.”
A year of training is not the only factor in the team’s remarkable success this season, though. Junior sprinter Ibrahim Ayorinde stated that what sets Princeton’s team apart this year is their ability across every event.
“It even surprised me how good we were this year,” he told ‘the Prince.’ “I think it's because I see a lot of depth [in this year’s team]. We are basically good in every single event group.”
The numbers certainly reflect Ayorinde’s claims. Ayorinde himself currently leads the Ivy League this season in the 60m and 200m races, and his teammates top the Ivies in 12 of the other 20 events. The Tigers’ domination ranges from long and high jump, to pole vault, to shot put, to the 800m, and to almost every sprinting event. It suffices to say that the men have earned some confidence moving into the Ivy League Heptagonal Indoor Track and Field Championships (HEPs) at the end of February.
Licata called HEPs “the competition [they] always circle on our calendar” as an important meet, and he said that the team is looking to dominate their Ivy League competition. With their elite numbers across events, the Tigers certainly have the capacity to do so.
Guttormsen also expressed his confidence in the team’s skill in a recent interview with the ‘Prince.’ “We're doing so well that we shouldn’t have a problem winning,” he said.
By clearing a 5.82 meter high bar this past weekend, Guttormsen broke his own Ivy League record of 5.75 meters and now holds the second best pole vaulting mark in the NCAA this season and the best mark in the Ivy league. The only other athlete who has come close to Guttormsen’s height in pole vault is Sondre’s younger brother Simen, another junior at Princeton. Still, Sondre has no intention of letting up against other Ivy Leaguers.
“We should try to leave them in the dust and show them what’s up. Show them that they’ve got to step up if they want to play with us,” Guttormsen confidently stated.
At HEPs, the men will have a chance to showcase their strong-hold on Ivy League competition before the NCAA tournament later this spring. Only athletes in the top 16 in their individual event at the end of the indoor season qualify for the NCAAs.
Despite not sending anyone to the meet last year, Princeton currently has five athletes that rank in the top 16 for their respective events.
“People are always [going to] improve the last few weeks, but hopefully our guys will improve too and we will get a bunch of guys going [down to Birmingham],” Guttormsen said.
The women’s team is just as focused as the men heading into HEPs. Senior distance runner Caroline Timm expressed her goals for the team in a recent interview with the ‘Prince.’
“Hopefully in a couple weeks, when we’re at the Ivy League championship, all [of] the hard work [has built up] and we’re able to really explode and try to win,” she said. “I definitely think we are capable of [finishing] in the top couple places but we definitely want to win and I think we can.”
With some of the fastest runners in the League, there is no reason that they shouldn’t.
Timm anchored the distance medley relay team with Hock, Yared, and Asante that broke a 2007 Princeton school record and has performed well in her individual events all season, including a 4:39.65 mile time at the Boston University Valentine invitational last weekend that landed her at second in Princeton history in the mile. Timm’s relay teammate, junior Maggie Hock, broke the school record for the 1000 meter race this past weekend with a stunningly fast time of 2:45.54.
Unfortunately for the women, other Ivy League teams have had admirable seasons as well. Rivals Harvard and Yale seem to pose the greatest threat to the Tigers. Harvard ended in second place at last season’s HEPs while the Tigers landed at fourth, with the Crimson currently the only team ahead of Princeton in the Ivy League rankings.
“Harvard, I feel like, is always one of our biggest competitors,” Timm said “They are pretty stacked in most events, so that is definitely going to be our biggest challenge.”
But the Tigers are not hung up on past or present rankings.
“Obviously the rankings matter a little bit because it shows you sort of roughly what people are up to. But at the end of the day, it’s a one or two day competition where you come up and do your event,” senior thrower Luisa Chantler Edmond explained in a recent conversation with the ‘Prince.’
Chantler-Edmond understands that HEPs is never an easy meet, but her attitude encompasses the spirit of the women’s track and field team.
“If we keep our hand on the throttle, as it were, we will definitely surprise a lot of people.”
The women’s team has certainly kept their hand on the throttle the past couple of weeks. Last weekend at the Valentine Invitational, junior Tia Rozario broke the Singapore National record for long jump with a leap of 5.71 meters. At that same meet the Tigers also achieved top 10 scores in Princeton history in six other events: the 400 meter, one mile, 1000 meter, 4x400 relay, and 2 top ten finishes in the 200 meter.
The Tigers have proved strong not only on the track, but in the locker room as well, building a strong team dynamic as the season has progressed. The team has engaged in team dinners, social events, and, above all, practices and meets that have built a supportive squad filled with passion and energy.
“I can really notice a big difference in our strength and capabilities, but in our team dynamics as well, which I feel like is really going to help accelerate and push us forward into the championship season,” Timm said.
The successes of both the women’s team and the nationally ranked men should propel them into strong performances at HEPs on February 26. It is a critical meet for Ivy League track and field athletes, where they perform directly against the rest of the conference.
HEPs is usually the one thing that looms over us every year,” Christian Brown said. “At HEPs it's always win. There’s no other option but win.”
Win is exactly what the Tigers plan to do. And if they unleash their full potential on meet day in two weeks, both the men and women will be a very scary sight for the rest of the Ivy League.
Eric Fenno is a contributor to the Sports and Prospect sections at the 'Prince.' He can be reached at email@example.com.