For the cross country teams, the Ivy League Championships are always one of the toughest meets of the season. Full of history and tradition, the race for the Heps crown is always a fierce and close battle. Tensions were high for the men on the starting line Saturday, as perennial second-placer No. 10 Columbia was poised to mount an attack on the No. 15 Tigers — the defending champions. The women’s race was also stacked, with several of the teams nationally ranked, led by No. 11 Dartmouth.
Despite placing six runners in the top 20, the Tiger men finally fell to the surging Lions, ending Princeton’s three-year title streak. On the women’s side, the No. 23 Tigers had a rough day, as they ran to fourth place. Dartmouth took first, followed by Cornell and Harvard.
“Obviously the expectation was to win,” senior co-captain Alejandro Arroyo Yamin said. “We were all working hard, workouts were going fantastic and we were going into the race confident, but sure, knowing that it would be tough. Columbia is a great team, Harvard and Dartmouth have runners that are up there, but we wanted to four-peat.”
From the moment the gun went off for the championship men’s 8K race on West Windsor Fields, the match between the Lions and Tigers was nail-bitingly close. By the early stages of the race, the main lead pack was a heavy mix of blue and orange.
Keeping the pace honest from the start, Dartmouth’s John Bleday and Will Geoghegan forged ahead with pre-race favorite Maksim Korolev of Harvard. With Korolev hitting the first mile in four minutes, 44 seconds, the race was close and tightly packed.
“We had a weak start and were buried in the pack at the beginning, but we quickly worked our way up,” Arroyo Yamin said. “We were right there; we were right in contact. The Harvard kid and the Dartmouth kids took off — they usually do that — but we just focused on the blue jerseys.”
Breaking away to a slight lead over the next few miles, Korolev and the Dartmouth runners continued to puswh the pace. Keeping a close eye on each other, Princeton’s and Columbia’s top runners hung back in a charged chase pack. The battle began in earnest over the final kilometers, and the field began to splinter as the push for the finish began.
“By about 5K, there was a clear front group, which was a couple of us and a couple of Columbia guys,” senior Tyler Udland said. “After 6K, Columbia threw down a big move, and [senior co-captain] Chris [Bendtsen] and I struggled to stay with it. We let them get away and put a few seconds on us.”
Redeeming himself after a poor race last year, Korolev made a push and tore away from the badly fading pair of Bleday and Geoghegan, finishing in a meet-record time of 23:28.2. Following Korolev, the top three Columbia runners delivered a crushing blow to Princeton’s hopes as they maintained their breakaway and placed second, fourth and fifth.
“As a team, we were kind of counting on getting to 2K or 1K-to-go and having that kick, and moving up and passing people the last part of the race,” Arroyo Yamin said. “But we got to 6K, and we just didn’t react. We didn’t move up the way we wanted to. Columbia ran away with it.”
Kicking hard behind the Columbia runners, Udland and Bendtsen fell short of catching up, as Udland finished sixth, two seconds behind the third Lion in 23:48.6, and Bendtsen seventh at 23:49.7. Arroyo Yamin and juniors Sam Pons and Matt McDonald rounded out the Tigers’ top five, finishing closely after in places 12, 15 and 16, respectively.
Overall, the Tigers had an impressive 16.7-second one through five spread and a 23:57.2 team average time, but it was not enough, and they fell 48-56 to Columbia.
“Heps wasn’t the result we wanted, but it wasn’t like we ran a terrible race. Columbia ran a great race,” Udland said. “Moving forward, we just have to pick our heads up and keep going. Fitness-wise, we’re still where we want to be at this point. We have to go to regionals, take care of business and be there at nationals.”
Racing after the men as the day turned unseasonably warm, the Princeton women struggled to find their rhythm. With Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino, the top-ranked runner in the NCAA, taking the race out fast, the field was strung out from the gun as most runners were dragged out faster than their race plans for the 6K race.
“We had a certain pace to go out at, and virtually the entire team was ahead of that pace. When they got to the mile mark and saw their time, panic might have set in,” head coach Peter Farrell said. “We had a bad day, not across the board, but we had a bad day. I think it was a combination of nerves, the heat and a little bit of panic.”
Leading Princeton, freshman Megan Curham was unfazed as she continued her outstanding freshman cross country campaign. Running aggressively, she got off the line and stuck her nose in with the front pack. Keeping close behind, junior captain Emily De La Bruyere kept Curham in sight as the two went through the mile in around 5:15.
Head and shoulders above the rest of the field, D’Agostino quickly dismantled the competition and was alone with a 20-second lead by three miles. All-Americans Waverly Neer of Columbia and Rachel Sorna of Cornell formed a chase pack, with Curham doggedly keeping up. Fighting in a pack of Dartmouth and Cornell runners, De La Bruyere was a few seconds behind, covering fifth place.
“Going into the last mile, that’s when it got really hard, and I had to tell myself to just give it everything I had so I didn’t have any regrets,” Curham said. “I tried to maintain my ground and keep on chasing the girls ahead of me. I wasn’t sure if I could catch them, but I tried to stick as close as I could and not let anyone pass me.”
Driving over the final mile and through the finish line, D’Agostino ran away with the individual crown in a meet-record time of 19:40.8, leading her team to victory. Neer and Sorna came in next, with Curham taking fourth in 20:26.1. Feeling the burn of the hot early pace, De La Bruyere faded over the last kilometer to place 10th.
As several of the Tigers’ top runners wilted in the heat, sophomore Kathryn Fluehr stepped up to take third for the team in 18th place overall, while junior Lindsay Eysenbach took 26th. Sophomore Kathryn Little was the fifth runner for Princeton across the finish, taking 37th.
Overall, Dartmouth secured the victory with 38 points, Cornell had 66, Harvard followed with 73 and Princeton had 95.
While fourth place was not the result the Princeton women were looking for, they have a shot at redemption at the NCAA Regional Championships on Nov. 15.
“When Princeton beat [defending champion] UCLA in basketball in the opening round of the  NCAA championship, [Princeton head coach] Pete Carril said, ‘We can play them 100 times and win only one game, but that was tonight. We play them tomorrow, they’d probably beat us,’” Farrell said. “The point is, Saturday wasn’t us. It can’t be us. You just have to bounce back.”
Looking forward to regionals, the Tigers are preparing for a shot to qualify for nationals. While qualifying with at-large bids based on regular-season performances is a possibility, both the men and the women are seeking top-two team finishes to advance. At nationals, the Tigers will have second chances at defeating their Ivy League rivals.