Monday, June 13, 2022

Historic Achievement

What do you think is the greatest team achievement in Princeton athletics history?

What if the question was narrowed down to just the last 10 years? Or the last five? Or even this one? 

The fact that there is no one clear, right answer speaks to the amazing history the Tigers have amassed through all their years of competing. It also makes it possible to overlook truly stunning accomplishments, ones that can tend to blend in with all of the others over time.

You almost surely wouldn't get consensus even if you could find objective observers well-versed in all of that Princeton history. There are just too many possibilities. It's a great problem to have, of course.

What the men's track and field team has done this year is proof of what TigerBlog just mentioned. It's easy not to add historical context to what Princeton has done, but that would be a mistake.

There aren't too many more impressive accomplishments than those of the 2021-22 men's track and field team. You can include the Heps cross country championship in the fall as part of what became another "triple crown" of Heps titles — the program's 10th all-time, compared to none for any other men's program in Ivy history — but that doesn't begin to really tell this story.

Princeton finished the indoor NCAA championships in fifth place. This past week in Eugene, Ore., Princeton finished seventh in the outdoor championships.

Think about that, if you will. That's top seven in the country both indoors and outdoors.

Here are the top seven men's teams in order: Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia, LSU and then Princeton. Who was next? Stanford.

This isn't the kind of stuff that happens all the time. As TB has said before, Princeton head coach Fred Samara talked before the new academic year began about the historic potential for his team, and then that team went out and did it.

Princeton's previous best finish was 14th, back in 1934 (if you were reading last week, that's the senior year of Bill Bonthron). The all-time best Ivy finish was third by Yale in 1950, back before there was an official Ivy League. 

No offense to the 1950 Yale team, but it wasn't quite the sport it is now on the collegiate level. Here were the top nine teams that year: Stanford/USC (tied for first), Yale, North Carolina, Cal/Morgan State (tied for sixth), Rice, Occidental, San Diego.

Princeton had 27 points this year at the NCAAs, which is the same number Yale had in 1950, for what that's worth.

Princeton's men finished with seven All-Americans: Sondre (first) and Simen (fourth) Guttormsen in the pole vault, C.J. Licata (13th in the shot put), Sam Ellis (finished third in the 1,500), Ed Trippas (fifth in the steepelchase), Sam Rodman (seventh in the 800) and Robbie Otal (16th in the discus). The Princeton women had Kate Joyce earn All-American honors with a sixth-place finish in the javelin.

It seemed like every time you looked at the coverage on TV, there was another Princeton athlete. To be able to finish in the top 10 in this era? That's incredible.

The track and field championships marked the end of the 2021-22 athletic year at Princeton. It was quite a celebratory note to end with for a year that began with so much uncertainty.

Meanwhile, what Princeton did in men's track and field this year goes way beyond a conversation of this year. It does beg the question of where this team fits historically.

It's not something TB is going to answer, at least not right now. Besides, like he said, there is no right answer, which is one of the beauties of Princeton's history.

For now, he'll just take it all in and admire what the coaches and athletes have managed to do. As he said, it's not easy to to pull something like this off. It takes quality and depth. It's a real team effort.

Congratulations to Samara and everyone associated with the program. 

It's always amazing when current events and history happen at the same time.

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