Sports » Cross Country
The men’s and women’s cross country teams had their first taste of competitive racing this season at the Notre Dame Invitational on Friday. Having had an easy September, free from any high-caliber meets, the Tigers used the race in South Bend, Ind. to test their fitness and run aggressively.
“Going into the race, we wanted to pack up and run fast together,” senior men’s captain Chris Bendtsen said. “We have a good top five guys right now, and we just wanted to make sure that we would pack up and really get going in the second half of the race.”
Fighting through the crowded field in the 8K race, the No. 9 Princeton men worked their way up to finish third out of 27 teams. The Tigers turned back five strong, nationally ranked squads, including No. 16 Colorado State and No. 21 New Mexico, but fell short of catching No. 7 Tulsa — as well as a surging No. 30 Columbia, which came away from the race with a huge upset victory.
Meanwhile, racing in the 5K, the No. 30 women took fifth place overall. While handily beaten by No. 2 Florida State, No. 15 New Mexico and No. 24 San Francisco, the Tigers were close behind fourth-place No. 28 BYU and earned more national credit by beating No. 19 Notre Dame. Princeton also bested a partially diminished, but still talented, squad from No. 4 Duke.
“There were seven teams ranked above us there, and the goal was to beat as many of them as we could,” junior women’s captain Emily de La Bruyere said. “Overall it wasn’t our best day in a lot of ways, but we got some success out of it. If we still perform perfectly fine as a team on a mediocre day, then that’s pretty good.”
With the hot and sultry 80-plus-degree conditions Friday afternoon, the Princeton men were planning to go out conservatively and pick up the pace gradually. But as the gun went off and the field began a mad dash toward the first tight turn, the Tigers quickly found themselves buried farther back than they would have liked.
“It’s a pretty crazy start,” senior Tyler Udland said. “In the first 200 meters it bottlenecks down to about three or four people wide. In a big field people get out hard, and then it gets pretty physical. A lot of us got pushed pretty far back.”
After recovering from the rough start, Bendtsen and Udland found each other and led the Tigers. Buckling down in the hot weather, the men ground on, picking off places all the way until the line.
“I did a pretty good job of staying calm. Through the whole race we just kept moving up,” Udland said. “I had to keep thinking, ‘one more person, one more person,’ and keep going.”
Finishing off an impressive race, Udland crossed the line ninth overall in 24 minutes, 38.77 seconds. A couple of steps behind him, Bendtsen finished in 24:40.40. Sticking to their original goal of preserving a strong front pack, the top four runners for Princeton finished within 16 seconds of Udland.
“We’re definitely coming out of Notre Dame with a positive view. We’re happy, we’re pleased, but still definitely not satisfied,” Bendtsen said. “It’s all about experience. We stuck to our game plan Friday, and it worked out well.”
As in the men’s race, the heat played a big role in the women’s 5K. In her first race since the indoor Heps Championship last winter, de La Bruyere started off running hard near the front of the race, but she and her teammates soon started to feel the drain of the weather.
“We had an idea of what pace we wanted to run, but we had no idea of how hot it was going to be,” de La Bruyere said. “We tried to adjust our goals once we got there, but we already had the pace we’ve been training at in our heads. I know that got to me, and I went out too hard.“
While some of the Tigers struggled in the heat, some excelled. Running in her first major collegiate race, freshman Megan Curham had a huge outing, finishing first for Princeton and 12th overall in a time of 17:20.95. Rallying over the final kilometer, de La Bruyere crossed the line shortly after Curham in 17:33.11 for 20th place. Senior Molly Higgins, freshman Lizzie Bird and sophomore Kathryn Little rounded out the top five.
An early season race, Notre Dame serves as an important checkpoint for the Tigers, as well as a learning experience in how to get used to the intensity of championship-style meets. Racing gives the Tigers valuable experience going into the competitive October schedule and with the Ivy League championships on the horizon.
“You have to go out there and be very smart about how hard you’re going to go, when you’re going to go and how you’re going to go,” de La Bruyere said. “Coming into the next races this month, especially at PreNats [on Oct. 19], it’s going to be very important to keep that in mind. We’re going to have to be smart and know when we can afford to push hard.”
While both squads are already nationally ranked, they know that there is work to be done before they are at their best. With Columbia’s upset this weekend, the men know that now is no time to rest easy if they are to defend their Heps crown.
“It’s cool to see a high ranking and all, but at the end of the day it doesn’t mean that much,” Udland said. “At the end of the day everyone is just determined to get it done when it counts. We ran hard this weekend, but we’re nowhere near our peak. I think that we all know personally how good we can be.“