Believing in Pete, men’s track relay team returns home with NCAA title

“We believe in Pete.”

Those were the now famous words of Austin Hollimon ’13 (famous in Princeton track circles, at least), describing on ESPN3 how he felt while Peter Callahan ’13 raced through the final leg of the men’s distance medley relay led the Tigers to victory at the NCAA Championships March 9. And from the following video, showing hundreds of supporters cheering for Callahan while watching a live stream of the race from Princeton’s campus, it’s clear that Hollimon wasn’t alone:

 

“We were shown that after the race, and I was blown away,” Callahan said. “To see that support here was pretty incredible.”

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Peter Callahan ’13 (Photo: Courtesy Athletic Communications)

There were plenty of reasons for Princeton fans and teammates to have faith in Callahan. As a junior last February, he ran the mile in 3:58.56 at Penn State, becoming only the third Ivy Leaguer ever to break the vaunted 4-minute threshold; the following month, he placed sixth at NCAAs in the same race to earn All-America honors. After winning the mile at this February’s Heptagonal Championships, he anchored Princeton’s distance medley relay to Ivy League supremacy, taking the baton in fourth place before surging past the field in the final lap. And at the beginning of March, Callahan once again finished the DMR in style, helping the Tigers set an Ivy record and qualify for NCAAs.

So when Princeton’s foursome prepared to race in the final Friday event of the NCAA Championships, the experienced Tigers — three of whom had run at an NCAA meet before — knew they had one of the strongest anchors in the field. Michael Williams ’14 kept Princeton in the lead pack in the opening 1,200 meters, Hollimon ran the race’s fastest 400, and Russell Dinkins ’13 followed with one of the fastest 800-meter legs, giving Callahan the baton in third place.

The leaders took the mile out slow, allowing several other teams to bunch up in the lead pack, but Callahan stayed out of trouble. Just before the bell lap, Callahan made his move, sprinting past the leaders — and nobody had enough strength left to catch him, as the senior kept putting more and more distance on the field until the finish line. “I didn’t look behind me to see if people were coming—I just wanted to get to the tape first,” he said.

After leading Princeton to its first indoor NCAA title since Tora Harris ’02 won the high jump in 2002 — and the Ivy League’s first relay championship in any season since 1975 — Callahan now faces a transition he hasn’t been able to make since his rookie year: preparing for the outdoor season.

In his sophomore year, Callahan sprained his ankle before the indoor Heps meet; he raced on it that week, winning an Ivy title in the 1,000 meters, but he was forced to sit out the entire outdoor season. Last year, he suffered a stress fracture related to the same injury late in the indoor campaign; he ran on it through NCAAs but then spent a few weeks on crutches.

This year, Callahan was more conservative in his early-season training, which he hopes will pay off in improved health for the spring. The schedule affords little rest between the indoor and outdoor seasons — Princeton’s sprinters will begin the spring schedule this week at the Central Florida Invitational, though Callahan and the distance runners will stay home (he’ll spend much of the break working on his history thesis, about a British World War I pilot) — but the big events will come a month or two later: Penn Relays, where Princeton won two titles last year; outdoor Ivies, where the Tigers will try to avenge a one-point loss in February’s indoor meet; and the NCAA regionals and championships.

With some of the nation’s top athletes in individual events — such as Hollimon, who qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 400-meter hurdles, and Damon McLean ’14, who placed 14th in the triple jump at indoor NCAAs — and the depth to put together more top-notch relay teams, the Tigers could make more noise at the outdoor championships in June.

Quick takes:

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL will learn its NCAA tournament draw during tonight’s selection show. Most projections have Princeton as a 10-seed, with a chance to move up to No. 9, which feels right — this year’s team won two fewer games than last year’s 9-seed but played a somewhat tougher schedule. The best-case scenario, location-wise, would be to draw a 9-seed in Connecticut’s subregional (like last year); if that doesn’t happen, Princeton could have to travel south or west.

In a somewhat surprising decision, MEN’S BASKETBALL declined to participate in a postseason tournament this season. After finishing the regular season at 17-11 (10-4 Ivy League) with a 71-58 victory at Penn, the Tigers would have almost certainly received interest from the College Basketball Invitational (as in 2010 and 2012) or the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Princeton’s Class of 2013 won at least 10 Ivy games in all four seasons, the first group to do so since the Class of 2004.

MEN’S LACROSSE dropped its Ivy League opener at Penn, as the No. 6 Tigers fell to the No. 13 Quakers 11-10 on Saturday. Princeton had two shots to tie in the closing seconds, but both sailed high. Ivy League play should continue to be a challenge, especially at the top of the conference, as No. 2 Cornell and No. 16 Yale are also ranked in the top 20 nationally.

WOMEN’S LACROSSE fell to 3-2 with a 9-7 loss at No. 9 Virginia on Saturday. The Tigers are 1-0 in league play after throttling Brown last week; with traditional powerhouse Penn struggling in non-conference action, the Ivy League title could be up for grabs, but Princeton will have to do most of its heavy lifting on the road.

 

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Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and former Daily Princetonian sports editor.