Donn Cabral '12 and the Princeton men are ranked No. 9 in the country heading into the Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships. (Beverly Schaefer)
In recent years, the finish line of the cross country Heptagonal championships has been dominated by orange and black, as the Princeton men’s and women’s teams have combined to win nine of the last 10 titles. But this year, the entire course will have a Princeton theme – in a departure from tradition, the meet will be held at the Tigers’ own West Windsor Fields on Saturday, Oct. 29.
Running for the Ivy League championship at home will be a new experience for both teams. The Heps meet has been held at Van Cortland Park in the Bronx every year since 1981 for the women and 1979 for the men.
“We’ve done a lot more work on the course this year than we’ve ever done,” Donn Cabral ’12 said, explaining that not only is it the site of Heps, but the team’s other big races will be run on similar courses. “We’ve been getting used to the different parts of the race and how we’re going to attack each part.”
A home-course advantage for the Tigers is the last thing that the rest of the men’s field wants to see. Princeton has won four of the last five championships – losing to Columbia by the smallest possible margin in 2009 but reclaiming the title with a comfortable win last fall – and appears stronger than ever. The Tigers finished fourth in a field that included 21 of the country’s top 30 teams at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational and jumped up to No. 9 in last week’s coaches’ poll, their highest national ranking since 1998.
“We have a ton of confidence right now going into Heps, because we know that if everything goes as planned, we have some leeway,” Cabral said.
At the head of the Tigers’ pack is Cabral, who finished fourth in Wisconsin and will be trying to defend his title as the individual Ancient Eight champion. As a junior last fall, Cabral – despite feeling under the weather and a little bit “past his peak” in training – beat 2009 champion Dan Chenoweth of Harvard by more than 10 seconds, finishing with the second-fastest time in Heps history at 24:03.8.
Being the defending champion is no guarantee of success, as Chenoweth discovered a year ago. But Cabral’s expectations could not be higher for his final Heps meet.
“I’m just as confident about my individual chances at Heps as I am about the team’s chances,” he said. “For both of them, I think that we can have just a good day and still win. And having won last year, against a great runner who’s now graduated, is definitely giving me confidence this year.”
Purely from history, the women’s team should be even more confident – while the men were defeated two years ago, the women are five for their last five at Heps, winning every meet by more than 20 points. But after losing strong racers such as Sarah Cummings ’11 and Ashley Higginson ’11, the Tigers may have a tougher fight on their hands this year.