Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 23
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
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MAAG FORCE: Princeton University senior distance running star Michael Maag heads to the finish line last fall as he placed second in the Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country championships. Maag has kept rolling in this track season, breaking the school record in the 5,000 meters and winning the titles in the 5,000 and 1,500 at the Outdoor Heps. This week, Maag will test his skills against the nation’s best as he competes in the 5,000 in the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship at Fayetteville, Ark.

PU Distance Star Maag Overcomes Injury, Ending Big Senior Year With Trip to NCAAs

Bill Alden

It would have been understandable if Princeton University distance running star Michael Maag had gone into a funk last spring when he was sidelined by a fractured left foot.

Instead, the unflappable Maag tried to make the best of the situation. “It was good to be a regular student and have the chance to experience life at college,” said Maag.

“It didn’t fuel me; I am not the kind of runner who gets angry. I run because I have success and enjoy my teammates.”

Still, Maag had the sense that he could have enjoyed some big moments if he had been on the track.

“The hardest part was looking at what I could have done that season,” said Maag. “I was really improving.”

Overcoming the injury, Maag got back on the fast track in his senior year. In the fall, Maag placed second at the Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country championships to help the Tiger men’s squad win its third straight team title.

In April, Maag set the Princeton school record in the 5,000 when he clocked a time of 13:41.17 at the Mt. SAC relays, bettering the previous record of 13:49.39 set by Paul Morrison in 2000.

Last month, Maag posted an impressive double at the Outdoor Heps track championship meet, winning the 5,000 meters and taking second in 1,500 but later getting the title after the winner was disqualified.

Later this week, Maag will test his skills against the nation’s best as he competes in the 5,000 in the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship at Fayetteville, Ark.

He will be joined at the meet by Princeton teammates Ashley Higginson (steeplechase), Sarah Cummings (10,000), and Alex Pessala (hammer throw).

For Maag, the journey to Arkansas started with some gym class heroics in his native Oregon.

“I think, like most runners, I did well in the PE mile and noticed that I had some talent,” recalled Maag, who hails from Lake Oswego, Ore.

“I was 5’6 and 120 pounds when I started high school so I wasn’t going to play football.”

With Oregon being known for its tradition of strong distance running, Maag found a home on the cross country and track teams at Jesuit High, a perennial state title contender.

“I had some success right away,” said Maag. “We had a good class and I enjoyed my teammates. I did pretty well for a freshman. It is a hotbed of running and that certainly cultivated my interest.”

After spending some time on the East Coast with relatives, Maag become interested in coming east for college.

Looking at Georgetown, Duke, and several Ivy League schools, Maag jumped at the opportunity to come to Princeton.

“When I got accepted at Princeton, I couldn’t turn down its combination of athletics and academics,” said Maag, an economics major. “It is probably the best in the country outside of Stanford.”

It took Maag some time to adjust to the higher level of athletics he found at Princeton.

“It was kind of hard, you had to run faster and race against faster people,” said Maag.

“Sometimes you come in 100th and it was a good race. It was never like that for a good high school runner.

Maag credits Tiger cross country coach Steve Dolan’s approach with helping him make a smooth transition.

“Coach Dolan is pretty good about keeping things incremental,” explained Maag.

“In high school, my mileage got up to 70 miles a week but it was usually around 50-55. I was at 60-65 as a freshman and up to the 70s as a sophomore. Now I am around 100. It was a linear progression.”

A key breakthrough in Maag’s freshman year came when he clocked a 14:05 in the 5,000 at the prestigious Mt. SAC relays during the outdoor season.

“I really ran well in that meet,” remembered Maag, noting that Tiger veteran runners like Frank Macreery, Frank Tinney, and Dave Nightingale helped show him the ropes. “That was a good time; it showed me I could compete at a high level.”

A year later at the indoor heps, Maag showed he was a clutch competitor, coming up big as the Tigers overcame Cornell to win the team title.

“I tripled at that meet and I think I was second in the mile and third or fourth in the 3,000,” said Maag.

“We had to win the DMR (distance medley relay) to beat Cornell and I outkicked one of their best guys to help us win.”

Recently, Maag was chosen as one of the best guys in his class, getting named as one of the five winners of the Roper Award, the top honor for Tiger senior male athletes.

“I am certainly honored,” said Maag. “When Dave Nightingale won it last year, I was thinking how great it would be to get it. We have so many impressive people in our class like Olympian swimmers; it is pretty special to be honored.”

Maag is hoping to produce a special performance at the NCAA meet. “Things have been going well; I am very excited,” said Maag.

“I know how hard it is to make it; I have been working three years for this. I respect anyone who has made it. The actual time is not as big a deal. It is more about racing and dealing with changes in the race. I have been running a lot of 1500s this spring so I would have a good kick.”

The NCAA championships won’t be Maag’s last college competition as he will complete his eligibility by competing for track power University of Oregon next season.

“You have to send out a letter of release of eligibility and I sent one to them,” said Maag, who had one season left due to being sidelined last spring.

“Once they saw it they got back to me. I couldn’t be more excited; it is a great opportunity.”

After the progress he has made at Princeton, Maag doesn’t see his stint at Oregon as being the end of the road for him.

“Running became a lot more important in my life during college than it had been before,” said Maag.

“You can’t do everything in college like you do in high school. Running is something I really like doing; it has become my identity. I plan to run until the next Olympics. I will be 24 or 25 at 2012 and in my prime.”

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