Distance dominance leads Princeton to men’s track and field title

At the indoor Heptagonal Championships in February, the Ivy League title came down to the wire. After Princeton mounted a furious second-day rally to erase a 45-point deficit, the lead changed hands twice in the final three races before Cornell edged Princeton by one point, snapping the Tigers’ string of seven straight Heps titles across the track and cross-country seasons.

Last weekend’s outdoor championships featured another Princeton comeback — but not as much drama. After trailing the Big Red by 24 points midway through Sunday’s finals, the Tigers dominated the late events to cruise past their chief rival, 190-162, and claim their third straight outdoor title.

Where did Princeton win the meet? When comparing the Tigers’ points with Cornell’s, one category stands out:

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In Saturday’s 10,000-meter run, Michael Franklin ’13 took first place, followed by Chris Bendtsen ’14 in second, Alejandro Arroyo Yamin ’14 in fourth and Tyler Udland ’14 in fifth, all separated by less than one second; meanwhile, Cornell had no runners in the top six scoring positions. The following afternoon, Franklin claimed another victory in the 5,000-meter run, with Bendtsen finishing third, Sam Pons ’15 fifth, and Cornell again shut out. All told, in the two distance races, Princeton outscored the Big Red 42-0 — much more than the final margin of victory.

It was no surprise that Princeton would be strong in the longest events. The Tigers have historically had a strong distance program, especially in recent years; under first-year coach Jason Vigilante, they won a third straight Heps cross-country title and posted a program-best 11th-place finish at NCAAs in the fall. Still, the degree of dominance was astounding — no team in any other event scored as many as Princeton’s 24 points in the 10,000, and only one matched the Tigers’ 18 points from the 5,000 (Harvard in the shot put).

Cornell entered as a favorite in the polls — at No. 19, it was the only Ivy League team ranked in the top 25 nationally — but Princeton matched the Big Red in most races, helping the hosts overcome Cornell’s advantage in the field events and letting the distance runners shine. Twenty-five athletes scored individual points for Princeton, and another four contributed to high-placing relays. “There’s strength in numbers, and that’s what this meet is about for us as a team,” sprinter Austin Hollimon ’13 said.

Hollimon closed hard after a sluggish start to win the 400-meter hurdles, a race he ran at the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer; he also anchored the 4×400-meter relay to a comfortable victory for his 11th career victory in an Ivy championship race. Princeton swept the standard mid-distance races, as Russell Dinkins ’13 won the 800 meters and Peter Callahan ’13 outkicked the field in the 1,500, his first race since leading the distance medley relay to an NCAA championship two months ago. In the field, Tom Hopkins ’14 won the long jump — despite passing on his final three attempts so he could compete in the 400-meter dash, in which he finished second — while Damon McLean ’14 won the triple jump a week after doing the same at Penn Relays.

Several Tigers, including Hollimon, will likely continue their seasons at the NCAA Regionals in three weeks. But for the seniors, Sunday marked their last races in the tight-knit world of Heps competition. And by avenging February’s close defeat in their home stadium, they couldn’t have gone out on a better note.

“It’s just sweetness, finishing off this way,” Hollimon said. “Everybody doesn’t get a storybook ending to their career. I get a national championship [in the DMR] and a Heps title at home, so I feel blessed for all of this.”

Quick takes

For the second time in three years, MEN’S LACROSSE failed to reach the 16-team NCAA tournament, likely being one of the first two or three teams on the wrong side of the bubble. In the semifinals of the Ivy League Tournament, Princeton edged No. 2 Cornell 14-13 on a sudden-death overtime goal by Kip Orban ’15, notching its biggest win of the season and advancing to the championship. But for the second straight year, the Tigers lost to Yale in the final, succumbing 12-8 thanks in large part to a brutal 4-for-24 performance on face-offs. The Bulldogs (with the Ivy’s automatic bid) and Cornell (as an at-large) both advance to the NCAA tournament, while Princeton ends its season at 9-6.

WOMEN’S LACROSSE lost in the semifinals of the Ivy League Tournament, falling to Dartmouth in double overtime. The No. 15 Tigers still earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, however, drawing a first-round matchup against Duke in Annapolis, Md. The last time Princeton qualified, in 2011, it upset James Madison in the first round before losing to No. 1-ranked Maryland.

WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD finished fourth at the women’s Heptagonals at Weaver Stadium, 41 points behind first-place Cornell. Greta Feldman ’13 won the 800 meters and anchored Princeton to first place in the 4×800 relay, Julia Ratcliffe ’16 set a meet record in the hammer throw and Tory Worthen ’13 won her eighth career title in the pole vault, finishing unbeaten in four years of indoor and outdoor Heps championships.

This weekend, WOMEN’S WATER POLO will compete at the NCAA Championships at Harvard. Princeton earned the No. 6-seed and opens against No. 3-seed UCLA, which has won seven of 12 titles since the tournament began in 2001. No non-California team has ever reached the final, but the Tigers will not be taken lightly thanks to Ashleigh Johnson ’16, one of the nation’s top goalies.

 

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