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Men's cross country wins Ivy Heptagonal Championships, women's places second

Women wearing matching black and orange tracksuits stand in two lines with arms around each other smiling
The women’s team prior to warming up.
Photo Courtesy of Lucca Fulkerson.

On an unseasonably hot day, the Princeton cross country teams shined at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships (Heps). The men secured a gutsy upset victory over Harvard, while the women finished in second place.

Men upset top-15 foe Harvard to take home Heps gold


Toeing the line after losing to Harvard two weeks ago at the Nuttycombe Invitational, the No. 15 men’s cross country team exacted revenge on the No. 7 Crimson. 

Princeton eked out the win, with 40 points to Harvard’s 43. Cornell finished in a distant third with 97 points, followed by Yale, Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Brown.

Following his Nuttycombe win, Harvard runner Graham Blanks won again at Heps with a time of 23:47 in the 8K. Junior Nicholas Bendtsen placed first for the Tigers with 24:08, good for fourth overall. Bendtsen improved from sixth place at the 6K mark, demonstrating the progress the Tigers have made in smart racing strategy.

The rest of Princeton’s top five were clustered within three seconds of each other, placing seventh, eighth, tenth, and eleventh overall. These runners were senior Jarrett Kirk, senior Connor Nisbet, senior Anthony Monte, and junior Daniel O’Brien.

“I think the depth of our team and our 16 second spread [between top and fifth runner] was fantastic,” head coach Jason Vigilante told The Daily Princetonian. “Moving forward, this is certainly something to build on.” 

Finishing with five runners clustered so closely reflects a unified team effort and also strong improvement from each individual runner. Kirk, who progressed from over 200th place at the UVA Invitational earlier in the season to seventh in Cambridge, remarked upon the team dynamic.


“I feel extremely proud of all my teammates and I know that we all came out to Heps to run together and run for each other,” Kirk told the ‘Prince.’ 

This team identity was crucial to the Tigers’ success, and to their dramatic improvement from two weeks ago when Harvard bested the Tigers in Wisconsin. The team is hitting their stride just as the season heats up, maximizing their potential at the best time. Kirk cited “belief and patience” as two factors to the win, and also praised Vigilante’s philosophy.

“[Vigilante] has been telling us for months to believe in ourselves and each other, so we have trusted him, stayed patient, and got the job done,” Kirk added.

Vigilante returned the compliment.

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“Every day our team makes choices to improve and work as a group. The positive attitudes and support from [one] another is special.”

With the win at Heps, the Tigers will be knocking on the door of a top-ten national ranking. While there’s some room to celebrate, the season is far from over, with two massive races soon to come.

“We are going to enjoy this win, but ultimately go right back to what we have been doing all season, working hard and staying patient,” Kirk said. “Winning Heps was one of our team goals, but not the last one.”

The next team goal comes in the form of a strong showing at the NCAA Regionals in two weeks on Lehigh University’s home course.

Women place second in repeat of 2022 result

Just as they did in 2022, the Princeton women’s cross country team placed second out of eight teams at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships.

Improving from fourth place at the 1500 meter mark, the Tigers just ran out of time to complete the comeback, finishing second, comfortably in between first place Harvard and third place Dartmouth. 

On the team’s second place finish, head coach Brad Hunt commented that this was the floor, not the ceiling, for a young Princeton team. 

“We believe we truly were at least the second best team in this league the entire time,” Hunt told the ‘Prince.’ “[We] certainly went into the weekend wanting to race from the front and give [ourselves] a chance to battle for the win.”

While the team came up short of the win, the team still had strong individual efforts. Senior Fiona Max ran a brilliant race, finishing first on the team for the first time this season and seventh overall, in a time of 21:01. Seniors Maggie Liebich and Tsion Yared and junior Mena Scatchard, Princeton’s second through fourth finishers, placed twelfth through fourteenth overall, in 21:21, 21:26, and 21:29. First-year Anna Chittenden was the final scorer for Princeton, finishing 28th overall in a time of 21:59.

These top four runners have consistently led Princeton’s scoring all season, and Hunt praised their performance, stating that “having four women all-Ivy is fantastic.”

The team certainly has many positive notes to build on from Heps, as junior captain Lucca Fulkerson commented on the resolve of the team despite a relative lack of experience. 

“I am incredibly proud of my team digging deep and putting themselves in a position to fight for the win,” Fulkerson told the ‘Prince.’ “This year was very special because eight out of our 12 girls had never raced at Heps before, yet they all showed up on the day to put forth their best effort for the team.”

Hunt elaborated on the growth of the young team, celebrating the veterans’ leadership as a key factor. 

“We’re a young squad that’s been led by some great seasoned veterans and upperclassmen, and I think as we’ve been sharing with the team all year, the upperclassmen can certainty share and operate that success is not linear, and that persistence over time is the key to the success you’re seeking,” Hunt said. 

The season, and each individual’s racing career, have not been a smooth, natural progression, and Hunt praised the upperclassmen leaders for overcoming their own individual challenges and coming to a place where they can be leaders for the rest of the team. 

“I really give a lot of credit to our upperclassmen Tsion [Yared], Fiona [Max], Maggie Liebich, and Mena Scatchard,” Hunt said. “There’s some awesome storylines here behind the scenes that you just are so proud of them for persevering and coming back even better than before.”

One such hidden storyline outside of any one individual is the support of the rest of the track and field team, which both men’s and women’s coaches and runners commented upon.

“Before Heps, they were there outside the bus, sending us off and getting us excited,” Kirk remarked. “After Heps, again, they were right outside the bus, ready to celebrate with us the moment we got off the bus … We did it for each other.”

The sense of teamwork and unity prevalent on both the men’s and women’s team will continue, as the women’s next race is also at NCAA Regionals at Lehigh on Nov. 10.

“The second spot in the region is wide open,” Hunt said, commenting on the fact that the top two teams from each region advance. “We are certainly operating with the belief that an opportunity to qualify for the national championships as a team is a viable option.”

Max Hines is a contributing writer to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’

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