When the Ivy League’s top men’s cross-country runners finished the first lap of the Heptagonal Championships at West Windsor Fields on Saturday, the race was playing out exactly as predicted. Columbia and Princeton each had six runners in the lead pack; the Lions, ranked 10th in the nation, were slightly ahead of the No. 23 Tigers on aggregate, but with the leaders still bunched tightly together and jostling each other around turns, the difference was insignificant.
When the competitors returned to the starting area again, completing their second lap at about the six-kilometer mark, the complexion of the race had changed considerably. Four runners — including two Tigers — had separated themselves from the rest of the leaders, making a charge for the individual title. Meanwhile, several other orange-clad competitors followed close behind in the second group, giving Princeton a clear advantage as most of the Lions fell farther back.
And when they came back into view for the third time, Chris Bendtsen ’14 was all by himself, charging down the home stretch through a tunnel of fans and winning the race by more than six seconds. Finishing right behind him was Alejandro Arroyo Yamin ’14; three other Tigers placed in the top 12, giving Princeton its third straight cross country championship and its sixth in seven years.
“I didn’t really put a move in until the last 800 meters — my plan was just to stay on the shoulder of the leader as long as I could,” Bendtsen said. “I knew the whole league was coming hard, so I was trying to finish up as fast as I could.”
Despite the graduation of Olympian Donn Cabral ’12 and two other top distance runners, Princeton was ranked as high as No. 11 nationally this fall. But the Tigers tumbled in the poll after placing 14th at the competitive Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 12; after its fifth-place finish at Wisconsin, Columbia entered the conference championship as a slight favorite to most prognosticators.
Running on its home course on Saturday, however, Princeton dominated the rest of the Ivy League. Behind Bendtsen and Arroyo Yamin, Tyler Udland ’14 took fourth place, Jonathan Vitez ’14 was seventh and Eddie Owens ’15 finished 12th, giving the Tigers 26 points — the best score at a Heps meet since 1997 (when the Tigers won with 25).
How strong was Princeton’s team on Saturday? Matt McDonald ’15 earned second-team All-Ivy honors with a 14th-place finish — and he didn’t even factor into his team’s score (because he wasn’t one of the Tigers’ top five). “We put our whole group in the front, and we waited until a move was made, and we stayed up there and ran as fast as we could,” Bendtsen said. “If you go down that list of runners, we have a lot of talent and a lot of hard workers – it’s nice when that hard work pays off.”
The women’s race, also held at West Windsor Fields, was dominated by No. 7 Cornell, which swept the top three spots and easily won its second straight team title. As the leaders crossed the line, it looked like Brown — which had the fourth, fifth and seventh finishers — would surprise the league and finish second; but when the final scores were posted, the Tigers had edged Brown and Harvard by two points to take second place (surprising even some of Princeton’s runners). Greta Feldman ’13 paced the hosts with an eighth-place finish, followed by Abby Levene ’13 in 12th and Jackie Nicholas ’15 in 13th.
Men’s distance coach Jason Vigilante, who took over the team in August, was able to celebrate his first Heps title on Saturday. But he still trails many of his runners in that category — the Princeton junior class has never lost a conference championship, winning all seven of its Heps meets in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. “We’re trying to keep that [streak]. We like it,” Arroyo Yamin said. “Hopefully we can continue that this year and next year as well.”
FOOTBALL took its first conference loss on Saturday, falling to Cornell in a wild 37-35 shootout. Connor Michelsen ’15 played a terrific game, completing 29 of 35 passes for 390 yards (including 162 to last week’s hero, Roman Wilson ’14), but star Big Red quarterback Jeff Mathews threw for 525 yards of his own, leading the hosts down the field for a go-ahead field goal in the final minute. Despite the defeat, Princeton would be guaranteed at least a share of the league title if it wins its final three games (vs. Penn, at Yale, vs. Dartmouth).
WOMEN’S SOCCER clinched at least a share of the Ivy League title, beating Cornell 5-1 on the road on Saturday. But the Tigers are still only three points ahead of Penn and Dartmouth in the conference standings, which means next weekend’s date with the Quakers will determine the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament (4 p.m. Saturday at Roberts Stadium). Princeton will advance with a win or a draw, while Penn must win outright to have a shot — the exact reverse of the rivals’ 2010 meeting, when the Quakers claimed the NCAA bid and outright league title with a 0-0 tie.
FIELD HOCKEY also secured a conference championship on Saturday, dominating the Big Red 5-0 to clinch at least a share of its eighth straight title. The following day (in a game that was played early to avoid Hurricane Sandy), the No. 2 Tigers dropped No. 7 Virginia 2-1, their fifth victory over a top-10 opponent this year. Unless something shocking happens in the season finale against Penn, Princeton should enter the NCAA tournament as one of the top four seeds.
After winning its first two games of the season, WOMEN’S HOCKEY received a rough awakening in its home openers this weekend, losing to ECAC foes Dartmouth and Harvard by a combined score of 12-2. With most of their top scorers back from 2011-12, the Tigers looked capable of improving on last year’s seventh-place finish, but Dartmouth and Harvard’s defenses kept them out of sync in the offensive zone.
Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and Daily Princetonian sports editor.