Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 48
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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HIGH FIVE: Princeton University junior women’s distance star Liz Costello heads to victory last month in the Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships. Last Monday, Costello placed 11th in the individually at the NCAA championship meet in Terre Haute, Ind. to help Princeton finish fifth in the team standings. It was the program’s best-ever finish in the meet, bettering the ninth-place finish posted in 2003.

PU Women’s Runners Gain Redemption, Finishing Fifth at NCAA Championships

Bill Alden

Last fall, the Princeton University women’s cross country team flew into the NCAA championship meet ranked fourth nationally.

The Tigers, though, left the course at Terre Haute, Ind. with their heads down after struggling to a disappointing 14th place finish.

Princeton head coach Peter Farrell sat his runners down for a heart-to-heart chat in the wake of the rough outing.

“Last year after the race we gathered in our tent,” recalled Farrell, who is in his 31st year at Princeton and is the only head women’s track and field and cross country coach since the programs went from club sport to varsity status in 1978.

“Their tails were between their legs, they were embarrassed. We sat in a circle and they talked about how they were going to do better this year.”

This past Monday, the Tigers arrived at Terre Haute for the 2008 NCAA meet boasting the same No. 4 ranking.

As his runners readied themselves for the race, Farrell reconvened last year’s post-race chat.

“Before the race, I took them to the same tent and told them to sit in a circle and continue that conversation,” said Farrell.

Later in the day, the Tigers came full circle from last year’s debacle, living up to their ranking this time as they powered to a fifth place finish in the team standings.

It was the program’s best-ever finish in the meet, bettering the ninth-place finish posted in 2003.

Junior star Liz Costello, who passed out during part of last year’s race, placed 11th individually to set the pace for Princeton. Costello covered the 6,000-meter course in a time of 20:24.

Senior Megan Brandeland was next for Princeton, finishing 42nd in a time of 20:51 with freshman Alex Banfich coming in 49th, senior Jolee VanLeuven placing 57th, and junior Reilly Kiernan taking 61st.

In Farrell’s view, Costello set the tone for Princeton’s big day. “If you take Costello, she is indicative of how we were going to do,” said Farrell of the Strafford, Pa. native and two-time Ivy League Heptagonal winner who was 209th at the NCAA meet last year.

“Liz had something to prove after last year; she had been pointing to this meet since last June.”

Another key in Princeton’s strong effort was the performance of senior leaders Brandeland and VanLeuven.

“The two seniors stepped up,” said Farrell. “It is a long season with a lot of up and downs, you need leadership. They had been talking about this meet for a while. Megan kept saying I can’t wait until Terre Haute. Some runners get intimidated by it but they were ready.”

The Tigers were ready to employ a tortoise and hare approach at the meet. “They followed the race plan to a tee,” explained Farrell, whose team had won the Heps meet this fall in record-breaking fashion and had triumphed again in the Pre-Nationals and the Mid-Atlantic Regional meets.

“We told them to be conservative and not go out too hard. Everyone thinks that because it is national championship, you have to run the race of your life. It’s a tough 6,000 meter course and it was cold, I told them to run like they did in the regional. They were 10th at the halfway point; Liz was 25th at the first mile, up to 15th by the second.”

Farrell isn’t conservative when he reflects on what his team accomplished this fall.

“This is the best team I have had,” said Farrell flatly. “We had depth. As the Heps showed we were nine deep and we got lowest Hep score ever. We won the regional title again. I checked the records from the previous Heps to see how we stack up against other great teams. Yale and Cornell had some great teams and placed in the top four at the nationals but we had the best times.”

And last Monday, the Tigers had the time of their lives as they proved they could excel on the national stage.

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