Vol. LXIV, No. 48
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
BRIANS SONG: Princeton University mens cross country star Brian Leung heads to the finish in a meet last season. Junior Leung, a former WW/P-S standout who won New Jersey state titles in cross country and the 3,200, enjoyed a big finale this fall. He placed fourth in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional on November 13, leading the way as Princeton won its first regional team title. Then on the Monday before Thanksgiving at the NCAA Championship, Leung placed 21st to earn All-American status.
It was a message that Princeton University mens cross country junior star Brian Leung saw first thing everyday while he worked in Montana this summer on an internship for Project Vote Smart.
I put a poster on my ceiling this summer when I was in Montana NCAA Top 10 Believe, Believe, said Leung, a former WW/P-S standout who won New Jersey state titles in cross country and the 3,200.
I would wake up every morning at 5:45 looking at that and getting ready to train.
Suitably inspired, Leung got in some great training during his 10-week stint in Montana.
I was on a 20-mile dirt road in the middle of nowhere; it was great, recalled Leung. I was doing a lot of miles; I got up to 120 a week. I was at 6,500 foot altitude.
Back in Princeton, Leung didnt reach any great heights early in the season.
I was not feeling so well in the beginning when I started preseason and was running with the team, said Leung. During the season I started doubting myself. Coming in fifth at the Heps; I was not seeing myself in the top 10 at that national meet.
But in the last month, Leung found his stride. He placed fourth in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional on November 13, leading the way as Princeton won its first-ever regional team title.
Then on the Monday before Thanksgiving at the NCAA Championship, Leung placed 21st to earn All-American status and help the Tigers take 12th in the team standings, their highest-ever finish at the national meet.
While Leung is at a loss to fully explain his late surge, he points to his time in Montana as a factor.
I dont know what it is but something has really clicked in the last few weeks; I have been feeling really great, said Leung. It is like the summer training has caught up with me.
Earlier in the fall, Leung had to scale back his training a bit in order to avoid getting caught by the injury bug.
I was bothered by some shin ailments and I had to be honest with myself and listen to my body, said Leung.
I knew that on some days, I needed to get on the bike or get in the pool rather than run. In high school, my coach used to say that it was better to be 90 percent fit and 100 percent healthy than 110 percent fit and 100 percent injured.
Leung and his teammates were ready to give 100 percent in the Ivy League Heptagonal Mens Cross Country Championships as they looked to regain the title they had narrowly lost to Columbia in 2009.
We got hyped up for that; we were going in there for the win, said Leung. It was disappointing to lose to Columbia by a point the year before.
Despite finishing fifth in the individual standings at the Heps, Leung was not thrilled with his performance.
It was not one of my best races, acknowledged Leung. It always comes on mid-term exam week; having four mid-terms in two days is not the best preparation. I wasnt getting much sleep and I told coach Dolan [PU head coach Steve Dolan] that I was just looking to get through it and do the best I could.
As Leung looked ahead to the NCAA Mid-Atlantic regional in early November, he had something to prove, having not finished the 2009 race due to a hand injury that required 13 stitches.
At the regionals last year, it was really muddy and I slipped backwards and got spiked on my hand; it was an acute injury, recalled Leung, who had been sidelined during the summer of 2009 due to a stress fracture. The good thing was that it was not weight bearing or related to the stress fracture.
While Leung and the Tigers entered the 2010 regional meet confident that they could place in the top three and qualify for the NCAA meet, the squad wanted more.
We came in very hungry to win something, asserted Leung. It was something the program had never done.
Leung and classmate Donn Cabral led the way as the Tigers bested such powers as Villanova and Georgetown in winning the regional crown. Leung covered the 6.2 mile course at Penn State in a time of 30:11 to take fourth with Cabral next in the same time.
I felt good going in, said Leung. The plan was to sit behind the leaders and then go for the win in the last mile. It was sit and kick.
For Leung, getting the chance to run with Cabral, an All-American in both the steeplechase and the 5,000, has been a kick.
Donn and I train together on a daily basis, said Leung. He is a team captain and being around him is incredible. I can go to him about everything. Hes one of the toughest people I have ever known; having someone like him around can be humbling.
Having run in the NCAA Championships as a freshman in 2008, Leung knew how tough that competition held in Terre Haute, Ind. can be.
As much as people like to think they can do well in their first time at that meet, having experience in that race is a big help, said Leung. Knowing the nature of the course and how fast the race starts is a help.
Drawing on that experience and encouragement from coach Dolan, Leung was ready to do well in Indiana.
Coach Dolan didnt overcoach us; the one thing he stressed is that we should go in really, really confident, said Leung. We are the Mid-Atlantic regional champs; we belong there. Every single guy had confidence that he belonged there and had confidence in each teammate.
Leung showed he belonged with the best as he cracked the Top 25 on the way to earning All-America honors.
I was surprised to be near the top 20; I thought I had the possibility of being in the top 40 and making All-American, said Leung, who covered 6.2 mile course in 30:19 in placing 21st with Cabral taking 34th in 30:27.
It means a lot; it is a title on paper but it is an important milestone for me to get. I was an All-American in high school and I wanted that same status in college. I checked the results and looked at the people around me. It was most of the same people for years; it is good to know I can still compete at that level.
For Leung, reaching a higher level when it counted most has been sweet. The last two weeks have been a blur, said Leung.
As a team, we have had a dream season. In the beginning of the season, we wrote down our goals. One was to win the Mid-Atlantic and another was to place in top 15 at the NCAA meet.
And while Leung may have fallen just short of the goal that adorned his ceiling in Montana, he certainly sent a message to his competition.
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