It requires a total team effort to win the Ivy League track and field crown. At the indoor Heps meet this weekend at Dartmouth, the Princeton men put forth an exceptional display of depth, with Tigers scoring points in 15 of the 19 events — the largest spread of any team in the competition.
Led by team captains junior Scott Rushton, seniors Tom Hopkins and Chris Bendtsen, the men waged another fierce battle with perennial title challenger Cornell. Yet despite their depth and fire, ultimately it was not enough as the Tigers fell 117-145 to the dominant Big Red squad.
While a loss to Cornell was hard to stomach for the men, over the course of the long, grueling weekend the Tigers had several inspiring individual performances that gave the championship meet its traditional levels of excitement.
“In a high-energy meet like the Heps, there are always guys who ignite the spark that gets the whole team going,” Hopkins said. “Building off that energy, we put it all out there and competed until the last event. It’s hard to have regrets when you have nothing left to give.”
Kicking Princeton off to a quick start in the two-day meet on Saturday with a big showing of his own, Hopkins took first in the long jump with a leap of 24 feet, 2.5 inches. Classmate Damon McLean took second right behind him, while sophomore Jake Scinto was fourth to give Princeton a hefty 22 points for the event.
McLean made his mark on the record books with an outstanding performance in the triple jump. The All-America jumper has more or less dominated the event in Ivy League competition. Four years of Heptagonal competition has yielded four triple jump titles for the Jamaica native. His mark of 15.53m outpaced his nearest competition by .11m. Fellow jumper junior Nana Owusu-Nyantekyi placed fourth in the event, jumping 15.09m in his final and best attempt.
Meanwhile, throwers Rushton and freshman Chris Cook went to work in the shot put. While Princeton has not typically scored many points in the throws, Rushton and Cook turned things around for the Tigers to take third and fourth place — the largest combined point total in several years. Rushton threw close to his best, landing 57 feet, 9.5 inches. Stephen Mozia from Cornell took first with an Ivy League record of 68 feet, 2.5 inches. His throw took the record from Olympic bronze medalist Adam Nelson, formerly from Dartmouth.
“At Outdoors last year I came in sixth place, so third place is a huge step up for me,” Rushton said. “Chris did well also — it was huge to have two throwers on the medal stand for the first time in four years.”
Rounding out the Tigers’ remarkable showing in Saturday’s field events, junior Adam Bragg won the pole vault, clearing 17 feet, 0.25 inches.
The 3000-meter run proved to be quite surprising. Run in two sections, the ‘B’ heat ran first at an honest pace, with Columbia sophomore Tait Rutherford taking the win in a respectable 8 minutes, 17.03 seconds. The more competitive ‘A’ heat, however, went slow and tactical — coming down to a fast kick. Penn’s Thomas Awad won it in only 8:24.75, leaving a bewildered Rutherford the new champion.
Starting things off on the track Sunday, senior sub-four-miler Michael Williams took third in a deep field. In a big reversal from Saturday’s 3000m, the mile went out hard and fast. Gritting it out, Williams finished in 4:02.26, beating the old meet record. Given Dartmouth’s unbanked, 200m track, the time converts to a 3:59 mark.
“Honestly, I’m pretty happy. This is the deepest mile race Heps has had in awhile,” Williams said. “While it’s a third place, I am pretty satisfied with the way it was run. Hopefully the time will also convert to a NCAA qualifier.”
In the 500m, Tom Hopkins came back to win his second individual title of the weekend. He took first in 1:03.55.
“As a senior, I’ve been having a lot of those ‘this is my last blah’ moments,” Hopkins said. “I figured, ‘I’m not going to lose to anyone who wasn’t alive during the first Gulf War — let’s win this thing.’ So I did.”
Over the course of the rest of Sunday afternoon, however, Cornell started to roar back in the sprints and field events. Freshman William Paulson started to turn things around with a gutsy third place in the 1000m, but it was not enough as the Tigers fell behind.
Like the men, the Princeton women also came together as a team to pull points and top performances out of unexpected places. Defending champion Harvard retained the title with 122 points, while the Tigers placed fourth with 79 points behind Dartmouth (102) and Columbia (95).
“Our team stepped it up this weekend. We knew we weren’t going to win. But we weren’t complacent — we had a lot of totally unexpected points across the board,” junior Emily De La Bruyere said. “Things that on paper were just not supposed to happen. There was incredible team spirit and everyone was there for each other. Nobody likes finishing fourth, but it was still a great team effort.”
The women had several dominating performances in a couple of events in particular.
On Saturday, senior Samantha Anderson kept the pole vault title in the Princeton family, as she cleared 12 feet, 9.5 inches to win. Before Anderson, Tory Worthen ’13 had won the pole vault title four years in a row. Freshman Allison Harris gave Princeton a 1-2 punch, going over 12 feet, 1.5 inches for second.
In Saturday’s 5000m final, freshman Megan Curham continued her streak of success from cross country and took second place behind NCAA champion Abbey D’Agostino. After going out at a conservative clip, the pace heated up over the final miles until it was just Curham and D’Agostino at the front. D’Agostino cruised away to win in 16:08.70, while Curham got a personal best at 16:12.20.
“I didn’t get any splits, I just ran the race how I was feeling and based myself off of the people around me,” Curham said. “It was run in a weird way for me. I guess all championship races are run slow to fast, but I hadn’t done that much. The last mile was basically where the main racing was.”
Sunday bore similar success for the women, as four more Tigers earned runner-up honors.
Sophomore Inka Busack finished second in the high jump, clearing 5 feet, 8 inches. In the weight throw, Princeton record holder Julia Ratcliffe threw 62 feet, 9.25 inches, behind Harvard’s Ivy League record holder Adabelle Ekechukwu’s throw of 68 feet, 3.25 inches. Bringing in more success in the field events, senior Imani Oliver jumped 41 feet, 8 inches in the triple jump to take second.
In the final running event of the meet for the women, De La Bruyere and Curham made sure to leave the track on a high note. With De La Bruyere coming off a 4:48 mile personal best a little over an hour and a half earlier, the 3000m final was going to be a tough one.
“We went out in 5:01 through the mile, and it was a little bit scary because everyone was in it at the beginning,” De La Bruyere said. “I was last and thinking, ‘I just ran a mile, I don’t know if I can run faster than this if we pick it up.’”
The race soon strung out quickly, and De La Bruyere went on to finish in a new personal best of 9:25.48 in fourth, while Curham was second in 9:22.08.
“It was so exciting. The 3k is the last distance event run at Heps; it’s the race where it’s really the last person standing who wins,” De La Bruyere said. “To end with a solid performance in that race was heartwarming.”
While losing Heps is always hard for the Tigers given the fierce pride, rivalries and tradition associated with the championship, they left Dartmouth with even more fire for the rest of the year.
“We know better than to let the bitterness of defeat take us down even a notch — we’re more mature than that. We take it in stride, make adjustments and train for the next opportunity,” Hopkins said. “After putting in focused work since the summer, we all know that we didn’t come this far just to come this far. We’ll come back stronger in the spring.”