Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 29
 
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
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DISTANCING HERSELF: Princeton University women’s distance running star Alex Banfich heads to the finish line last fall as she took second at the Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships. The rising junior is currently working and training in France after culminating the 2009-10 season by finishing eighth in the 5,000 at the NCAA Championships to earn All-America honors.

PU Runner Banfich Enjoying Summer in Paris After Making All-America in 5,000 This Spring

Bill Alden

While cycling superstar Lance Armstrong has struggled on the road this month in the Tour de France, another American athlete has been flying around the boulevards of Paris.

Princeton University distance running star Alex Banfich has been logging plenty of miles when she isn’t working as a teacher in the classroom.

“I’m doing an internship through Princeton teaching English to French children ages 3-10 — its been extremely rewarding and I’ve had a great time so far,” said rising junior Banfich. “I’ve found plenty of parks to run in here so training is going just fine.”

Things have been going just fine for Banfich in her cross country and track career at Princeton. In her freshman year, the Plymouth, Indiana native made first-team All-Ivy League and qualified for the NCAA championship meet in cross country. She also placed fourth in the 5,000 meters in the Indoor Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and third in the 5,000 at the Outdoor Heps

As a sophomore, Banfich was second at the Cross Country Heps and second in the mile in Indoor Heps. She had a superb spring, winning the 5,000 at the Mt. SAC Relays and taking third in the 3,000 and second in the 5,000 at the Outdoor Heps. Banfich culminated her 2009-10 campaign by taking third in the 5,000 in the NCAA East Regionals and then earning All-America status with her eighth place finish in the event at the NCAA championship meet.

For Banfich, her rise in the track world started modestly in sixth grade when she chose running over volleyball.

“I got into running when I was 11 I think; it was a choice between that and volleyball for girls at my junior high school and I’ve never been very coordinated so it was the natural choice for me,” recalled Banfich.

“I had tried tons of other sports though — basketball, volleyball, golf, tennis, ballet, and tee-ball — so I had been athletic but never really excelled until I tried running. I think the reason I stuck with it was because I continued to improve and little by little, I became moderately successful and was addicted to the constant gratification of getting better the harder I worked.”

Crediting the guidance she received from coach Michael Chastain at Culver Academy, Banfich went on to have a highly decorated high school career. She won eight individual state championships in cross country and track to establish herself as a prized recruit.

When she arrived at Princeton in the fall of 2008 after choosing it over Virginia and Duke, Banfich was in for a bit of a rude awakening as she started training with her new teammates.

“The biggest challenge to transition into college running was practicing with a group of girls at the same level and faster than me,” said Banfich.

“I trained completely alone in high school so the change was certainly welcome but definitely something I had to adjust to. It was great to just jump into cross country season freshman year because I hit the ground running at college and I just never looked back.”

While keeping up with her fleet teammates was a challenge, hanging out with them in and out of practice taught Banfich some key lessons.

“The other girls on the team are what made and are still making me the runner I am today,” asserted Banfich.

“They’ve set an amazing example and have contributed to the Tigers’ tradition. Training with all of those girls is extremely motivating. I’m not only teammates with all of them but friends as well — running in college is a lifestyle so you can’t help but become very close to the girls that share your exact lifestyle and understand everything you do and why you do it.”

It took Banfich a while to understand how to deal with competing in fall, winter, and spring.

“I’d never done a full indoor season in the winter because I used to swim in high school every winter so adjusting to more consistent training was something I had to learn,” said Banfich, who cites going home for her appearance in the NCAA cross country championships in Terre Haute, Ind. as a highlight of her debut season.

“The end of my season was a bit disappointing, but it was all part of learning how to run in college. I think I was not used to doing three seasons in a row and track season is a long one so I had to learn how to train hard but balance it with rest and maybe I didn’t do the best job of that last year, but it helped me learn for this year definitely.”

In stepping up her performance as a sophomore, Banfich applied the lessons she learned during her freshman year.

“This past year was definitely a year that I took everything I learned from last year and applied it,” said Banfich. “I am still making mistakes every once in a while but definitely having learned a lot about myself and how I could contribute to our program as a team.”

Last October, Banfich made a big contribution to the Tiger cross country team, taking second at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships as the program won its fourth straight Heps crown.

“It was great to do so well at Heps and even more exciting that our team went 1-2-3-4-5,” said Banfich.

“I knew during the race that we would do well based on our positions, but I didn’t realize we had the potential to do that until I looked behind me after going through the finish line. It was an historic moment for the program and I’m honored to have contributed to it.”

Banfich enjoyed making history this spring at Eugene, Oregon as she finished eighth in the 5,000 at the NCAA Championships to earn All-America honors, becoming just the fourth Tiger women to earn such honors in the event.

“Going to Oregon, I knew I was primed for a good performance, but it is difficult not to get intimidated on such a big scene and in such a historic setting so I actually didn’t want to think about the special atmosphere, and instead I had to treat it like any other race, just with better competition than I’d ever experienced,” said Banfich, who clocked a time of 16:06.79.

“My plan was simply to stay in the top third of the race and finish as high as I could — if that happened to be All-American, that would be great, but if it wasn’t, I would have been happy knowing that I did all that I could. The one thing I didn’t want was to leave Oregon not having run my best race. I think I ran a smart and controlled race and I was definitely happy with my finish, though of course I’d like to do better next year. The finish only motivates me to work harder and do even better in the future.”

In reflecting on her future, Banfich knows it will take a total commitment to build on what she has accomplished so far.

“My goal for the next season is to remain strong, healthy, and training at a high level for the entire season, a goal that I’ve realized requires rest every once in a while, attentiveness to things like sleep and eating healthily, and staying organized in all parts of my life,” added Banfich.

“Of course I always make an effort to do this, but I’ve realized that the more I take care of things like this consistently, the more successful I am.”

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