Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Hanging At Heps

The rain that was supposed to turn the West Windsor cross country course into a muddy quagmire never really materialized Saturday morning.

Instead, there were clear skies and temperatures in the 60s. In other words it was perfect running weather. 

Well, TigerBlog can't really speak to that. He's never been a runner. It was perfect watching-other-people-run weather. 

The occasion was the 2021 Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championship meet, held on Princeton's West Windsor course. As TigerBlog has said many times before, there aren't many events on the annual Ivy League calendar that are more fun than Heps cross country.

It's a giant party with one of the most grueling athletic challenges mixed in. TB hasn't missed too many of them through the years, whether it has been at West Windsor fields or at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City.

The most common conversation from Saturday went something like this:

Person 1: "It was supposed to be really muddy."
Person 2: "Do you remember the year it snowed?"

That year was 2011, when West Windsor was blanketed by some late October snow that made for brutal conditions – and for extraordinary photography. Anyone who was there that day remembers it well, and remembers the football game against Cornell that followed.

Fortunately, the meet Saturday did not have to worry about any of that. 

TB arrived just before the women's race began at 11. There were the eight team tents – each with plenty of food – lined up adjacent to Washington Road, and they were gathering points for alums and friends.

One of the first people TB saw was Donn Cabral, the 2010 Heps cross country champion, as well as 2012 NCAA steeplechase champion and two-time Olympic steeplechase final. There aren't too many more accomplished Princeton athletes in the last, well, ever. 

TB, Cabral, and Thayer Patterson (you probably know Thayer, since he seems to know everyone) had lunch two days before Heps. Cabral, in addition to his running career, recently graduated from UConn law school and is now starting out his legal career. 

He is overwhelming humble about his running accomplishments, and he is the kind of person you can just sense will improve whatever he touches as he continues through his life. It was good to see him at lunch, and it was good to see him at Heps. 

Cabral, as a senior, ran on that snowy day in 2011, when he finished third after slipping once during on the icy course. His time that year was nearly a minute off his 2010 time of 24:03.8, which at the time was the second-fastest 8K race in Heps history.

Princeton's Ed Trippas, who continued in Cabral's footsteps as a steeplechase Olympian himself this past summer, ran a 23:26.3 time Saturday, which would have been the all-time Heps record, had it not been for Harvard's Matthew Pereira, who ran a 23:18.0 to win and set the record, leaving Trippas in second.

That Princeton was going to be the men's team winner was made clear the first time the pack came back into view after the start. TB couldn't count that fast, but there was a lot of orange and black near the front. 

As it played out, Princeton had nine of the top 15 finishers. For point scoring purposes, Princeton's top five were all among the first nine to cross the finish line: Trippas in second, Kevin Berry in third, Anthony Monte in sixth, Matthew Farrell in eighth and Jacob Kintzele in ninth. 

Added up, and Princeton finished with 28 points, well ahead of Harvard's 43 and then Penn's 90. 

On the women's side, Princeton finished strong but couldn't quite catch up to Harvard, instead finishing second to the Crimson (37-68). The Tigers were led by Fiona Max, who finished in second, followed by Angie Allen in 10th, Abby Loveys in 14th, Caroline Timm in 17th and Lexie Allen in 25th.

And so the party was back, and it was pretty much like it always is, which is to say a time to see old friends, a time to make some new ones, a time to see all eight Ivy League schools line up at once, a time to see some great races and a time to remember what broad-based intercollegiate athletic competition is all about. 

It was one Princeton win and one Princeton runner-up, which wasn't a bad day at all. Then again, regardless of the finishes, it's never a bad day at Heps.

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