Monday, November 1, 2010

Orange-And-Black Friday

To TigerBlog's right was a tent from an Ivy League school other than Princeton. It had a nice assortment of cookies, a tray of sandwiches and a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

As an aside, TB doesn't like peanut butter but he does like Peanut Butter Cups, and he's never understood why.

To TB's right was the Princeton tent. Its spread included grilled salmon with a dark sauce that TB didn't quite recognize. There were croissants, some of which had a nice smoked salmon on them. There were wrap sandwiches, bagels - and plenty of desserts, including homemade brownies and chocolate chip cookies.

It was that kind of day at Van Cortlandt Park Friday, a day that was all Princeton.

The Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championships were a big-time Princeton party, at which the Tigers swept the five categories: women's individual champion, women's team champion, men's individual champion, men's team champion and food.

The forecast was supposed to be for sunny skies and temperatures near 60, but it was raining briefly in the half hour or so before the first race. Still, most the day was nearly perfect weather-wise, especially for cross country.

The tents were set up along the straightaway to the finish line, which was in front of the concrete stands and pavilion. There is seemingly never-ending construction going on at the park, so the course changes a bit every year.

For the most part, the runners are out of sight, heading into the woods after the start and making two passes in front of the spectators for the women and three passes for the men.

In the women's race, the field was completely packed as it came by the first time. The drama then builds as time gets close to when the runners come out of the woods, by which time the finish starts to take shape.

Princeton's Alex Banfich ran away for a 20-second win, but it was Columbia in second and third and then Princeton's Ashley Higginson in fourth, making the team score 5-5. Any suspense ended when Princeton runners came home 8-9-11, giving Princeton its fifth straight team championship.

Then it was time for the men's race.

Like the women, the men had their start on the far side of the big open field. Then it was twice in front of the fans before the end.

Princeton came across the line 1-5-6-8, and it was over when Max Kaulbach came in behind three Dartmouth runners in 13th to seal it. Like the women, Princeton's men totaled 33 points.

It was a great day for anyone from Princeton, but it really belonged to Donn Cabral. The day started with worry on the part of the Princeton group because Cabral had a bad cold, which was making it hard for him to breathe.

Would it slow him down? Nope.

Somewhere along the way, Cabral shifted into a different gear from the field, and the result was awesome. He ran the final 100 meters so fast that all TB could think was "wow."

In fact, Cabral would run the second-fastest five-mile Heps ever. The 2010 runner up was the 2009 champion, Harvard's Daniel Chenoweth, who ran the seventh-best Heps time ever - and was still more than 10 seconds behind Cabral.

TB has now attended Heps for maybe seven or eight straight years, and it continues to be a great event to watch. To see the runners as the approach the finish, with some trying to hang on while others are in a full sprint to improve a place or two, is fascinating.

To see the runners after the cross the line is to see athletes who have given every ounce they have.

It ends with an awards ceremony, which honors the top 14 finishers (who also earn All-Ivy) and then the team champions.

This year, the biggest awards went to Princetonians.

Trophies, medals, champions - and salmon. Who could have asked for more on the final Friday of October, at one of TigerBlog's favorite events of any year?

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